03.18.2004 12:00 AM
Consumer Groups Oppose Down-Rezzing
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) weighed in with the FCC on down-rezzing, the clause in the agency's plug-and-play order that allows DBS and cable operators to provide hi-def content in a lower resolution format.

The point of down-rezzing is to appease the Motion Picture Association of America and related parties, who fear their pricey hi-def content will wind up all over the Internet. Down-rezzing would take place in a set-top box, where HD content would be transmitted only to an authorized secure digital output, capable of complying with the broadcast flag. Content transmitted to an analog or unsecure digital output would first proceed through a device that would pluck bits out of it -- the down-rezzer.

More than 5 million consumers who currently own HD displays equipped with analog-only outputs would be subject to down-rezzed programming.

"If I have paid for high-definition ESPN or HBO, there is no reason that I should be forced to use a lower-quality analog signal just because the motion picture industry wants to impose more content protection restrictions on me," said EFF senior intellectual property attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Until the FCC acts to prohibit down-rezzing, consumers won't know whether their DirecTV and cable set-top boxes will continue to provide them with the high-definition content they paid for."

Cable and satellite operators have come down in favor of down-rezzing, citing threats from the Hollywood community that their content would be jerked from those platforms if the additional layer of protection wasn't adopted.

The CEA opposes down-rezzing, as does the Home Recording Rights Coalition, Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, the EEF and the Consumer Federation of America. The last four groups in that line up were also the plaintiffs in a suit filed last week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. against the FCC to block the broadcast flag order. The suit claims the commission exceeded its authority, acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and failed to produce evidence that the flag was necessary.

The FCC has asked the court to put the lawsuit on hold, pending the agency's decision on petitions to reconsider the flag order.

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