MPAA may back off broadcast flag

The Motion Picture Association of America appears unlikely to push for a broadcast flag component in DTV legislation establishing a 2008 hard date because the bill’s main author, House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), is against the provision, according to a report in Communications Daily.

Meanwhile, the MPAA will keep briefing House and Senate members on what it considers is the broadcast flag bill’s importance and will seek other ways to get the content protections it wants.

Also on the DTV legislative front, Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), said last week that he is “toying with the idea” of requiring companies that continue to manufacture analog televisions after a certain date to supply digital converter boxes with those sets.

In another report in the National Journal, Stevens said that type of requirement would help ensure that households that purchase analog sets — and do not subscribe to cable or satellite services — could continue receiving over-the-air signals after broadcasters complete the digital transition and return all channels on the analog spectrum to the federal government.

Stevens said foreign manufacturers are selling an increasing number of analog sets, even though U.S. broadcasters are in the process of shifting to digital signals. He said households that buy new analog sets after a certain date should not have to shoulder the costs of the digital converter boxes.

Current law sets Dec. 31, 2006, as the target date for the return of the analog spectrum. However, it provides exceptions for broadcasters in markets where less than 85 percent of households are able to view digital broadcasts.

A draft bill unveiled last week by Barton and Rep. Fred Upton, (R-MI), sets a Dec. 31, 2008, deadline for returning analog channels to the government. That bill does not contain a provision for subsidies to lower-income consumers for the purchase of set-top boxes to allow analog TV sets to receive digital signals. However, Democrats contend the legislation will not pass without such a provision.

Stevens declined to comment on whether he would support the 2008 deadline in the House draft legislation. But he said he would favor “arranging [the transition] so we can maximize the concept of raising the money that this spectrum should bring to the government.”

MPAA Executive Vice President John Feehery confirmed to Wired News that Barton told the organization he doesn't support broadcast flag provisions in his bill. But Feehery said the group hasn't determined its next course of action.

The MPAA began its legislative push on Capitol Hill shortly after a May 6 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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