FCC Pushing Quick Vote on Broadcast Flag

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The Federal Communications Commission is racing to approve the "broadcast-flag" regime for blocking illegal Internet transmission of HDTV shows -- a special meeting prior to the scheduled Nov. 13 meeting is rumored to be a possibility.

As the proceeding draws near the finish line, the roar from fans and foes of the technique is rising.

Consumer groups Tuesday derided plans for stopping peer-to-peer file sharing of HDTV programs as a "scheme" to "regulate all consumer-electronics devices and personal computers."

If the FCC requires digital-TV sets to recognize the flag -- a code embedded into a broadcaster’s signal -- and honors instructions not to permit retransmission over the Internet, existing DVDs and other digital recording devices will have to be junked. Also, the system will interfere with consumers’ home recording rights.

"This proposal is a dramatic attack on the consumer's right to use content that has been legally obtained while doing little to deter large-scale commercial piracy of digital content," said Mark Cooper, the Consumer Federation of America’s research director.

Proponents of the flag, however, said the consumer groups have it backwards and no personal copying will be blocked, no devices rendered obsolete and only mass sharing of digital files will be prevented.

"Not one piece of equipment bought today will be hurt," said Andy Setos, Fox Television’s technology chief. Although the flag can be circumvented, he added, a technology must be available to broadcasters that will stop their programming from being easily transmitted over the Internet by everyday consumers.

"Everything can be hacked, but we believe this technology is adequate to the task of taking illegal transmission out of the hands of everyday consumers," Setos said.

Without the protection, broadcasters said they will not have access to high-value content such as movies and sports programming, and the erosion of free TV’s audience share will ultimately endanger the sustainability of the business.

The FCC is said to be rushing to complete the flag mandate in order to have specifications ready for the Christmas 2004 production cycle.

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