Broadcast flag flies in Senate bill

Telecom reform bill for antipiracy protection released

WASHINGTON — The Senate Commerce Committee has released a telecom reform bill that includes the antipiracy protection Hollywood has sought in the form of the so-called broadcast flag. But any celebration would be premature.

Still in draft form, the 135-page bill released late Monday contains dozens of provisions, many sure to engender as much opposition as support from interested parties.

What’s more, such a large bill — introduced late in the legislative calendar and in an election year, to boot — stands little chance of passing in this congressional session.

The Federal Communications Commission previously issued rules mandating broadcast flag technology, which reads marked or “flagged” digital content transmitted over television airwaves and prevents its indiscriminate redistribution over the Internet. But last year, a federal court blocked the rules, saying the FCC lacked authority to issue them.

Bill now gives FCC that authority. But it also allows for multiple exceptions that educational and public interest groups said were necessary. For instance, bill permits “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,” according to bill text.

“The movie industry has some real problems with this,” an industry insider told Daily Variety. “We’re hoping we can get some help on them because they’re very problematic.”

Even one public interest group that had argued for the exceptions was less than enthusiastic about them. “If a broadcast flag has to be there, I guess this is about as good as it gets,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.

Similarly, while bill addresses some unresolved issues about digital TV transition, broadcasters will likely be unhappy to find no mention of multicast must-carry, for which they have been lobbying. Current federal rules require cablers to carry only one broadcast channel, but in the digital TV age, broadcasters will be able to beam as many as six.

Other provisions or omissions will likely upset cablers.

With many in Congress gearing up to campaign for the coming elections, and given the priority placed on other issues, like immigration reform and the federal budget, chances are low for resolving different interests in the bill any time soon.

“It will take almost a miracle meeting-of-the-minds between lots of different industries for this bill to pass this year,” Sohn said.

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