FCC set to devise digital tech regs

Solons still pushing 'flag' to protect against piracy

WASHINGTON — In a win for Hollywood studios, the Federal Communications Commission indicated Thursday it is ready to begin writing up rules for new technology that prevents digital TV from being hooked up to the Internet.

Item was listed on the agenda for the FCC’s Aug. 8 meeting.

Agency is still debating whether to also put forth a new rule requiring the consumer electronics biz to begin installing digital TV tuners in sets by 2006 — a move likely to spark a loud chorus of protest.

Digital push

After months of spinning its wheels, Washington has recently moved to push along the troubled transition to digital TV.

Copy-protection issues are a key sticking point, with Hollywood adamant that it won’t hand over quality programming until certain technologies are in place.

Last month, top Capitol Hill pols strongly suggested FCC topper Michael Powell intervene and mandate that the technology — known as the broadcast “flag” — be incorporated into televisions, computers and other consumer electronics gear to prevent the pirating of digital TV over the Internet.

Disney’s Michael Eisner and News Corp.’s Peter Chernin have been out front in lobbying for the flag; the tech biz has largely agreed to employ such technology.

Capitol Hill now wants the FCC to resolve any outstanding issues, a challenge Powell seems to have accepted in announcing the item will be addressed Aug. 8.

“Certainly, we’re encouraged by the FCC’s decision. Hopefully, this will lead to a resolution of this long-festering matter,” said Ken Johnson, top aide to Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.).

Time for comments

The FCC likely will vote to begin a rulemaking on the flag, meaning private parties would have a chance to comment before agency staff draft their recommendations.

Rulemaking, likely to take until the end of this year, could address other anti-piracy technologies, all of them more controversial than the broadcast flag.

The tech sector has signaled strong objections to Hollywood’s suggestion that technology be developed to clamp down on Internet file-sharing sites.

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