Senate is ready to approve antipiracy bill

With its latest version of a telecom reform bill, the Senate Commerce Committee is poised to give Hollywood its sought-after “broadcast flag” antipiracy protection.

Similarly, telephone companies are likely to get a big regulatory break on getting into video delivery, and cablers will be encouraged to offer more family tiers.

New version — the third — also toughens provisions for so-called Net neutrality, but it’s unlikely that critics of the previous version will be satisfied.

The big questions: whether committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) can muster votes to pass the bill out of committee when it’s debated Thursday, and whether opponents successfully attach any bill-killing amendments.

The first version of the most comprehensive telecom reform legislation in 10 years included provisions for almost all parties that voiced an interest.

Broadcast flag — essentially, technology that marks, or flags, protected content so that a digital broadcast of it cannot be indiscriminately replicated and uploaded onto the Internet — was included in the first version.

But so were numerous limitations on protection. Hollywood lobbyists, for example, were nervous about proposed exemption, in the original bill, of “short excerpts of broadcast digital television content over the Internet; and broadcast digital television content over a home network or other localized network accessible to a limited number of devices connected to such network.”

The second version eliminated that exemption and a few others, but some remained. Current version hasn’t changed.

“It is not perfect, and no one is likely to be satisfied entirely,” MPAA topper Dan Glickman told the Senate Commerce Committee. “The motion picture industry certainly has its own concerns with some of its provisions. But on the whole, the committee has done a commendable job of crafting a compromise provision that is fair and workable.”

Telco execs should be smiling: Bill will ease video franchising requirements for companies like Verizon, which plan to enter commercial video delivery. Goal is to promote price and service competition with established cable companies.

Cablers opposed the break, saying it was unfair, but National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. prexy-chief Kyle McSlarrow was happy that the bill eliminated an earlier mandate for sports access requirements, which would have forced cablers to share local sports programming with telcos.

Net neutrality remains controversial in the bill. This idea that network providers should not charge different rates for access to different content or sites was barely represented in the original draft. Current draft includes an “Internet Consumer Bill of Rights,” which guarantees some but not completely unfettered access.

“We do not think that the redraft addresses Net neutrality in a meaningful way,” said a spokeswoman for the It’s Our Net Coalition. “It falls far short of protecting Internet users from discrimination at the hands of the network operators and is more an Internet Bill of Wrongs than it is a Bill of Rights.”

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