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Earth to Congress: We Watch TV

SOMEWHERE OUT THEREYou might not have noticed that the denizens of the U.S. Capitol have unusual senses of humor. It must have something to do with the marsh gasses. Once a swamp, always a swamp.

Anyhow, just when people were all upset about Iraq, the economy and other matters of some importance, the bipartisan staffs of the House Commerce Committee came up with something to make us all smile. It's called "A bill to require the Federal Communications Commission to take actions necessary to advance the transition to digital television service, and for other purposes."

Section 1 is the short title of the bill, which they ain't come up with yet. I offer, free of charge, these ideas: the Inclusive DTV Issues Of Tomorrow act, the DTV Optimization Procedure Enhancement act, or maybe the Supreme Television Upgrading Process Incorporating DTV act. Yeah, any of those would do. I'll call it the STUPID act here.

So much for section 1. Section 2 is "Findings," of which there are none yet. After all, why waste time with findings, when you can just jump right in and legislate (tee-hee).

Section 3 is about as simple as can be. It just deletes subparagraph B of section 309(j)(14) of the Communications Act of 1934.

"But, Mario, what was that subparagraph?"

Oh, nothing much. It was inserted by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Subparagraph A says "A television broadcast license that authorizes analog television service may not be renewed to authorize such service for a period that extends beyond December 31, 2006." Subparagraph B contained every possible exemption from subparagraph A, like the idea that DTV receivers need to be available, and people need to have access to DTV via receivers, cable or satellite.

Deleting subparagraph B means only that no one's allowed to broadcast NTSC in the U.S. after 2006. That's all. 85 percent? What 85 percent? Are you laughing yet?

Section 4 says DTV stations have to broadcast network signals "without degradation." My, my! So, if the network delivers 45 Mbps (or even 300 Mbps), that needs to be squeezed into 19 Mbps (or less) flawlessly. Ho, ho! Those staffers are a riot, ain't they? You can understand why "The Capitol Steps" comedy group is so good. And the jokes never stop!

Section 5 is one of the biggest. I'll try to cut it down a bit or so without losing too much of the flag-waving humor. Let me see. Oh, yeah. The first part is that anything that delivers DTV after 2005 (via antenna, cable or satellite) has to deal with the "broadcast flag in order to prevent the unauthorized redistribution of marked digital terrestrial broadcast television content to the public over the Internet."

That's pretty funny right there. I'd love to know how they'll prevent someone from aiming a camera at a screen and sticking a mic in front of a speaker, but what do I know? Anyhow, it gets better.

Not only must this equipment absolutely prevent retransmission, but it must "not impose unnecessary or unreasonable burdens on product design or manufacture or stifle innovation," and it must "protect the full functionality to consumers of equipment manufactured before January 1, 2006," which would include, methinks, the ability to stream to the Internet. Hee-haw! And I ain't done!

No analog outputs are allowed on any TV-related device manufactured after July 1, 2005. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Prepare to throw out all your existing TVs and VCRs!

Section 6 is to give a moment to catch your breath. There ain't going to be dual must-carry on cable of both the analog and digital signals of a TV station. Well, DUH! But there's nothing in the STUPID act about satellite carriage of DTV at all, and, as for how much of a DTV signal cable ops need to carry, that's covered in section 7, the entirety of which reads as follows: "TO BE SUPPLIED." Tee-hee!


The very appropriately named section 8 (chuckle) covers DTV/cable compatibility. It says that, as of July 1, 2005, all cable ops have to use the same technical standards (heh, heh, heh), and those have to allow delivery of basic and premium programming without a set-top box. Plus (hee-hee), as of the same date they have to make point-of-deployment security modules available, despite the fact that Our Beloved Commish (aka the FCC) had already required those same PODs as of July 1, 2000! Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

I'm already gasping here, but section 8 has more funny stuff! It says, "all digital television display equipment" (which happens to include every TV set ever made) has to "include secure digital interface connections and ensure that such equipment is upgradeable to successor digital interface technologies." HAW, HAW! Just like an old VGA connector can be "upgraded" to HDMI, eh? Be ready for anything that ever gets invented. Oh, my side is splitting!

All the above must "not result in the altered or diminished functionality of a consumer's digital television reception, recording and display equipment as intended for legal, noncommercial use." Let me see: Your analog TV set and VCR can't pick up any signals after 2006, and you can't buy an adapter/converter for them, because analog outputs are illegal after July 1, 2005, but none of your functionality is to be diminished. Guffaw!

Section 9 is those DTV "tuner" requirements that Mikey Powell, Lord Chief High Hoo-Hah of Our Beloved Commish, pushed through in August. Now they'd be not merely the law by Federal regulation but also by the STUPID act of Congress (titter). Section 10 says that cable ops are still allowed to have set-top boxes. For what? They can't have analog outputs, and all TVs that are allowed to work (if any, after all the contradictory stuff) don't need them. Chortle!


And then comes the resistor, or, as they say in French, the piece de resistance, section 11: labels. Between the time the new regs go into effect and July 1, 2005, every TV set, VCR, DVD recorder, cable box, satellite receiver, PVR, plasma panel, computer monitor, tuner card and anything else that might be involved in the business of "receiving, recording or displaying, or navigating among, television signals" ["Hard-a-port, matey; ABC lies dead ahead!"] gets a label.

The label "shall disclose to any prospective purchaser that the apparatus will not function for the purpose of receiving, recording or displaying digital television content." This shall "be conspicuously displayed in simple language on the body of the apparatus, its packaging and any other location the Commission deems appropriate." Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho, hee, hee, hee, hoo, hoo, hoo! And that's just the first label!

So, the first label says, in simple language, "Buy me! I will stop working in 18 months!" The second label is for recording devices. It "shall disclose to any prospective purchaser the classes of apparatus that will display the recording" and - I don't know if I can get through this without falling on the floor - "the protection technologies or techniques that prevent such replay." HA, HA, HA, HA!

I can just see the label now: "The 8 cm dual-sided blue-laser disks recorded here can be played on any two-inch superhigh-band quadruplex machine with MPEG-4/10 decoding and an HDMI output, except that the 7-C's high-bandwidth content protection system will ensure that no one can ever see any of the recordings. On sale: $15,999.95."

My hat's off to you House Commerce staffers. I can't recall when I've laughed so hard. What's that you say? It's not a joke? Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! You're too much!