March 05, 2003
Broadcast Flag continued... Will There Be Digital Signals for Those Without Cable?

Tomorrow morning at 7am PST (there will be a live audio feed during the event), The House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property will hold an oversight hearing on "Copyright Piracy Prevention and the Broadcast Flag", per Donna at Copyfight. This was a subject in hot debate at the DRM conference Saturday. One suggestion for implementing the Broadcast Flag was to discontinue all over-the-air transmissions of TV signals so that Broadcasters and the MPAA would feel more comfortable sending digitial content, regardless of the fair use implications or the issues of information flow in a democracy.

Note the end of the panel discussion:

Emery Simon, MPAA…Do you know percent of the American public who gets their television that way? Less than 20%. (He was speaking of over-the-air broadcasting signals.)

Richard Epstein, U of Chicago Law Prof…Well then you are telling me something which I kind of guessed, because I have a cable and a dish at my house. I get anything I can get over the air, over those two things. So what we really have to do is to junk that technology, put everything through encryption, once you encrypt it then you can monitor it, and then you don't care about it, including the assignment problem, and then we can all go home, including the FCC.

Mozelle Thompson, FTC Commissioner... With all due respect, a lot of people like me are among those 20%.

It reminded me of redlining, where financial institutions refuse to serve poor areas, except this is sort of a proposed technological redlining of those who do not subscribe to cable, where they will no longer be able to receive over-the-air broadcasts. Some of these people don't have cable because they can't afford it, some because they don't watch much TV or want the expense, and some because they don't like cable monopolies, but they all still want over-the-air access, regardless of use and need, and this digital divide between cable users and non-cable users is not likely to go away soon.

Although, according to this National Broadcasting Association memo (pdf) from August, 2002, they, and the FCC, are committed to retaining over-the-air broadcast signals, and it's actually 81 million sets, or 1/3 the population, that receive free TV signals. "Relying solely on cable as we move into the digital television world runs contrary to the U.S. system of free, over-the-air broadcasting."

All this to prevent people from taking digital signals to make and distribute pirated copies downstream, which Ed Felten shows would be quite a task right now.

Derek Slater has some interesting thoughts as well about over-the-air transmission of content.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 05, 2003 08:37 PM
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