The chips are officially down for television manufacturers.

Today marks the deadline, handed down by the federal government, for TV makers to start installing the V-chip--a programmable system that lets parents block objectionable programming from their kids--in at least half their sets.

Part of a mandate unanimously approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year that required all TV sets 13 inches or larger to be equipped with the technology by 2000, tube makers seemed to have no problem meeting today's deadline. In fact, most manufacturers fell into compliance much earlier.

"Everyone has done it, and everyone is ahead of schedule," said FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. "We never had any concerns that they wouldn't willingly meet the deadlines."

Still, while electronics manufacturers have dutifully upheld their end of the V-chip deal, the system's availability seems to have been met with widespread apathy among broadcasters, who must add electronic signals in their programming to make the chip work--and parents, who must program the thing to make it effective.

According to a USA Today survey, a number of Southern California parents who'd just purchased V-chip-equipped TV sets didn't know about the device, didn't really care about it, or felt it was too arcane to use.

"If I tried to use something like that with my son, he'd laugh at me," Pasadena resident Kelly Marcus told the paper. "If I can't figure out how to program a VCR, what am I going to do with a V-chip TV? I'd have to ask him to program the shows so he can't watch them. Does that make any sense?"

The paper did find a mother of four in New Orleans who was buying a set specifically for the feature. "The V-chip is a long time coming," Sara Berkley said. "I want to control what my children watch."

Of course, Berkley won't be able to do that if broadcasters don't play ball. The V-chip is designed to filter out programs with certain ratings signals. For example, by entering a password, parents can block all programs with explicit sex and violence.

But the system doesn't work if the rating signal isn't broadcast. Recent research by Thomson Consumer Electronics, which makes RCA TVs, reveals that only 30 percent of programs carry the signal the V-chip uses.

"The whole process has been short-circuited by the nonchalance of broadcasters not doing their civic duty," Thomson spokesman David Arland told USA Today.

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