Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sen Stevens tries to sneak the Broadcast Flag into law

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has snuck the Broadcast Flag into a bill on Net Neutrality. The stealth clause authorizes "the FCC to establish a broadcast flag to allow TV stations to protect digital content from Internet piracy."

What this means is that Senator Stevens is trying to pass a law that will allow broadcasters -- who enjoy free use of billions of dollars' worth of public airwaves -- to veto any features of digital televisions and downstream devices. Ultimately, that means that the FCC would, on behalf of broadcasters, get control over the design of video recorders, optical drives, network interfaces, hard disks, computers and operating systems. A brief far more sweeping than the FCC has ever had before, making them into America's "device czars," charged with ensuring that the business models of the broadcasters and Hollywood studios won't be disrupted by technology.

One element of the broadcast flag proposal is that is prohibits the use of free and open source software in digital TV applications (including PC operating systems, video drivers, etc). That's because the Broadcast Flag requires that devices be built to be "robust" -- that is, to resist the attempts of their owners to modify or improve on them. It's as if Senator Stevens is trying to pass a law requiring the hood of every car to be welded shut when it leaves the factory, to make sure that no driver ever gets to change his own oil. Link (Thanks, Tony!)

Update: Alan reminds us that Sen Stevens previously rejected Broadcast Flags for radio -- seems like someone got to him since January.

The thing that bugs me about this, is the two aspects of this bill are contradictory. I'm not willing to trade Net Neutrality for a broadcast flag.
Boing Boing: Sen Stevens tries to sneak the Broadcast Flag into law. Please contact Senator Stevens and let him know how wrong this is, being polite, of course.
Update: More linkage goodness. IPac and Public Knowledge for the actual bill.

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