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The FCC is engaged in a number of rulemakings to guide the transition from analog TV, which we have now, to digital television. One of those rules is the “plug and play” rule, which allows for direct connection from a cable service into a TV set without the need for a special set-top box for most programming services. Among the issues in the proceeding are digital cable system transmission standards, how TV sets must be labeled so that consumers know what the capability of the sets is, and rules for protecting digital content.
Analysis of issue: One of the key issues in this proceeding is the extent to which content companies and content-delivery services can leverage the Commission’s goals of promoting digital television, cable compatibility, and competition in the navigation-device market into sweeping regulations whose principal effect is not to serve these goals, or even to prevent piracy of digital television. Instead, the real purpose of these proposals is to restore to content companies, to the extent possible, the degree of control over video they exercised prior to the invention of the videocassette recorder.
If the Commission yields to these urgings, there will never be any “end game”; the Commission will have essentially taken over the process by which the information-technology and consumer-electronics sectors’ devise copy-protection technologies for the digital and analog worlds, and will have usurped these industries’ prerogative to experiment with new copy-protection technologies and business models in the marketplace. If the Commission continues to grant these entreaties, it will effectively have set itself up as the gatekeeper over transmission of content over all connection technologies, digital or analog.