BusRadio should make it easier for parents to monitor what the company is piping into school buses, the Federal Communications Commission recommends. Beyond that, the question of whether the service is in the public interest should be left up to local school districts.
“We are mindful of concerns expressed by some parties that the harms resulting from BusRadio’s programs and practices far outweigh any countervailing benefits,” the FCC’s report concludes. “At the same time, we recognize that BusRadio is currently providing service to a number of school districts nationwide that, for various reasons, have arrived at a contrary conclusion.”
It makes sense that the FCC would suggest this, of course. The agency has no statutory authority over Internet radio.
As we’ve reported, Congress asked the Commission to review BusRadio following a slew of complaints by parents that the free Internet stream for school buses forces kids to listen to commercials and includes inappropriate content and songs. Massachusetts based BusRadio offers a streaming system for about a million bus riding students between the ages of 6 and 18. It also provides an emergency GPS tracking system for the 8,500 buses in 170 school districts in 24 states that subscribe to the service.
Beyond contending that the question of the appropriateness of BusRadio should handled locally, the FCC did suggest that the company make it easier for parents to monitor the service.
“BusRadio’s Content Guidelines may well be a useful tool in identifying age-appropriate
content, but the effectiveness of the guidelines is difficult to assess without meaningful monitoring of compliance. It is unclear whether, or to what extent, BusRadio conforms its practices to the Content Guidelines. In this regard, we find valid some commenters’ views that the posting of BusRadio’s daily programs – after they have been distributed – fails to enable parents to avoid exposure of their children to undesirable content.”
Indeed, when we logged into BusRadio’s parents section with our password, we could listen to yesterday’s stream. But most parents aren’t going to have the time to do that. They’ll want easier access to play lists and content, and the company should comply with this recommendation.
Beyond that, deciding whether to go with the service will always be a tough call. BusRadio’s website is pretty commercialized, but the stream itself is less ad driven than most FM or AM signals and a lot of these new mobile channels for teens. If you’re opposed to commercials on principle or don’t like how raunchy pop culture has gotten, you’re going to hate BusRadio no matter how many changes the company makes. But pragmatists may see the service as the lesser evil to what otherwise might wind up on school buses.
Say, why doesn’t National Public Radio come up with some kind of similar service? Of course, since it wouldn’t be commercial driven, it would require state, local, or federal funding—not a prospect in this economic environment. Still, down the line . . .