Pols set date to spur move to digital TV

Tauzin, Dingell expected to include copy protection in legislation

WASHINGTON — Influential Capitol Hill lawmakers have skedded a crucial hearing for later this month on sweeping legislation that will order Hollywood, computer makers and the consumer electronics biz to stop complaining and flip the digital TV switch.

Insiders said Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who lead the House Commerce Committee, are close to introducing the omnibus bill and have set a Sept. 25 hearing before the telecom subcommittee.

The congressional action marks a significant step forward for Hollywood, which has been lobbying virtually around the clock for technology that will block digital TV from being uploaded to the Internet, as well as the ability to stop pirated movies from being swapped on peer-to-peer Web sites.

Tauzin and Dingell are expected to include copy protection measures in the legislation.

Navigating piracy issues

The question of copy-protection technology has put the entertainment biz, the consumer electronics congloms and computer makers at fierce odds, while Hollywood studios have been roundly accused of trying to lock up cyberspace. Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti counters that the film and TV industries will be devastated if digital piracy is allowed to thrive.

This summer, Tauzin told the various parties that he would go ahead and craft legislation if they couldn’t resolve their differences privately — which hasn’t happened thus far.

“We have simply drawn a line in the sand — either get these agreements in place before September, or else the legislation,” Tauzin top aide Ken Johnson said this summer.

To some degree, the bill is expected to mirror efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to further along the digital transition. The FCC recently voted to require TV makers to include digital tuners by 2004, and on a staggered basis.

Tauzin and Dingell, too, are expected to include the tuner requirement.

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