Broadcast Flag Draws Consumer Opposition, Cable Support

Supporters and opponents of the controversial broadcast flag are making their best efforts to sway the FCC as the Feb. 21 deadline for public comments approaches.

Weighing in this week was, among others, the Consumer Federation of America. CFA argued to the FCC that the controversial proposal to insert a broadcast flag into DTV signals--intended to restrict the distribution of programming over the Internet--is more likely to hinder than help the digital transition. CFA also claims that broadcast flags will render digital media less innovative than it otherwise could be.

CFA claims that broadcast flag proponents such as Hollywood studios and broadcast networks have "failed abysmally" to make the case for the broadcast flag that could violate consumers' "fair use" rights to use legally obtained content in various ways.

The federation also said that the FCC hasn't demonstrated that Internet transmission of high quality broadcast content is a problem today or that it will be. And the flag would affect almost none of the actual distribution of digital content because almost 90 percent of American households receive their TV signal from cable or satellite, not a broadcast signal, CFA said. The flag also would require the commission to regulate all TV sets and PCs that can receive a video signal or any device that can play such content.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) told the commission that rules governing the broadcast flag must be flexible so different media could be protected against Internet retransmission in ways best suited to each medium's particular form. NCTA noted that there should be exemptions for headend equipment flexible enough for cable and others to develop home networking systems that allow customers to privately view programming.

"The flag must be limited to its original purpose," NCTA said. "It should not be turned into a vehicle for restricting home use within a secure home network, or for carrying other transactions or instructions."