MOBILE PHONE CARRIERS ADOPT CONTENT RESTRICTIONS

Web Access, Games, Music, Videos and Ring Tones Included

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Advertisers hoping to turn mobile phones into a distribution outlet for branded entertainment should beware: Parents might be watching.
Steve Largent, president-CEO of CTIA, the Wireless Association, said the new standards were designed to help parents protect their children from accessing inappropriate content on their cell phones.



As the amount of content on mobile phones increases, the nation's leading wireless carriers have decided on a voluntary two-tier guideline system intended to prevent children from accessing adult or other types of mature content.

Ad messages

The guidelines cover both content provided by a carrier, such as Verizon Wireless' V-Cast programs, and so-called off-carrier content that users can access from advanced devices by connecting directly to the Internet. The guidelines could limit just how far advertisers could go with their nontraditional approaches to reach consumers with their messages.

The restrictions cover content ranging from adult or sexually explicit content to excessively violent fare, as well as gambling. Movie clips, TV shows, weather, news, games, music downloads, music videos and ring tones would be covered by the guidelines.

Under the guidelines, content would be classified into two categories: Generally Accessible Carrier Content or Restricted Carrier Content. The categories will work off the currently established rating systems in the movie, TV, music and games industry. For example, movies and games with R or Mature ratings would fall into the Restricted Carrier Content categories.

Concern for children

Steve Largent, president-CEO of CTIA, the Wireless Association, said the guidelines are designed "to help consumers better understand the incredible opportunities wireless technology provides, while most importantly equipping parents to protect the people they care about most -- their children."

He described the guidelines as a voluntary industry pledge to "proactively provide tools and controls to manage wireless content."

“Parents must ultimately decide what materials are most suitable for their children, and wireless carriers participating in this important measure are committed to providing parents with the necessary tools to do so,” Mr. Largent said.

Wireless carriers adopting the guidelines accept a pledge they will exclude restricted content or will require parental permission for subscribers 18 years of age or younger.

Internet-blocking technology

Carriers participating in the guidelines also have been asked to develop Internet access control technology enabling wireless account holders to block the entire Internet or only specific Web sites.

Currently, U.S. carriers by and large do not allow "adult" content on their own on deck sites. Consumers, however, are able to access a number of sexually explicit sites via the mobile Web.

In response to the guidelines, Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein issued a statement praising the industry's effort, saying it "should really help families who rely on their cellphones but do not want their children inadvertently exposed to adult material."

Earlier this fall, the association dropped a plan to develop its own system of guidelines. Movies are rated in five categories ranging from G to X. TV ratings, on the other hand, are more specific, with notations such as FV for fantasy violence.

Rapid increas in wireless content

The ratings system for mobile phones was deemed necessary because the amount of programming showing up on what is considered “the third screen” is rapidly increasing.

While about 11% of the approximately 200 million wireless service subscribers currently have the ability to access high-end content on their cell phones, Sprint Chief Operating Officer Len Lauer, speaking earlier this fall at the CTIA Wireless Conference, said improved content and faster networks have placed cellphone content at the "tipping point."

Sprint and other carriers this fall have accelerated their pursuit of content.

Sprint, for example, has begun a joint venture with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications which could lead to a robust offering of programming on video-enabled Sprint phones. Carriers also soon will start to offer over-the-air downloads of music directly to mobile phones.

Even phone manufacturers are getting into the act.

Nokia has introduced CoolZone, a digital content channel available at music stores or movie theaters where users can buy related mobile games, wallpapers, videos and music.
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