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Thank you Senator Sununu

January 27, 2006

PK just posted an Action Alert to allow citizens to thank U.S. Senator Sununu from New Hampshire for his statements at the recent broadcast flag hearing.

You can see Senator Sununu in action from the hearing webcast here. Skip ahead to time mark 1:07:34 to hear the Senator's comments--they're right on point!

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Broadcast Flags Hearing Recap

January 24, 2006

As a result of today's hearing in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, here's the score on the Senators that had something to say about the "video" broadcast flag at the hearing:

Senators Who Want the Flag:

  • Chairman Ted Stevens: Started the hearing off by recounting his understanding of the history of the broadcast flag: a number of years ago, 11 Senators sent a letter to the FCC asking it to conduct the broadcast flag proceeding, the FCC did, and the FCC rule was struck down by the federal court which said that Congress didn't give the FCC permission. The Chairman seemed dismayed that the intent of his letter was ignored by the federal court, and would like to reinstate the FCC's rule. However, being from the remote state of Alaska, he seemed concerned about the broadcast flag's ability to hamper distance learning, like that contemplated under the TEACH Act, although Andy Setos' assurances that the broadcast flag wouldn't interfere seem to put the Chairman's mind at ease.

  • Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye: Made a brief opening statement in support of the broadcast flag, and only asked Andy Setos' (one of the co-inventors of the broadcast flag) a few slow-ball questions to allow Setos to explain that the mandate necessary to protect digital broadcast content.

  • Senator Gordon Smith: Floated the draft bill that was the topic of most of the discussion. He said he was committed to passing this legislation and willing to work a "balanced compromise."

Senators Who Asked Good Questions:

  • Senator Conrad Burns: The Senator seemed also concerned about educational institutions and consumers ability to use television media. Representing Montana, he too was concerned about distance learning and people's ability to excerpt portions of television shows under the broadcast flag.

  • Senator Ben Nelson: Thoughtfully asked Leslie Harris of CDT to clarify how she thought the FCC's mandate should be changed be Congress--how the process could be changed to allow for fair uses and not hamper innovation. He seemed to agree with her that these changes had to be expressly written out in any legislation, not just delegated to the non-expert agency--the FCC--which he fondly called "one of those alphabet agencies."

Senator Who Was an Innovation and Consumer Champion:

  • Senator John Sununu: Finally, a Senator who essentially asked the question, "Do we really need a government mandate here?" He walked through a quick history of innovation (radio, TV, VHS, TiVo) and how the lack of government legislation allowed those technologies to flourish. He said clearly that that every time Congress introduces a mandate, its only assured outcome is to stifle innovation. Not a single person in the hearing room could dispute this claim. He criticized both witnesses and Senators for jumping the gun by talking not only about draft legislation, but about hypothetical exceptions to the legislation. He dared to rhetorically ask the group why legislation was needed at all and why market solutions couldn't fill the gap?

It was thoroughly refreshing to have at least one Senator thinking out-of-the-box (is it sad that calling into question whether any legislation is needed is dubbed out-of-the-box?!) and standing up for the market for innovation and consumers.

Thank you Senator John Sununu!

Keep checking this space for an easy way you can thank the Senator and encourage your own Senator to likewise think "out-of-the-box"

As for the "audio" broadcast flag, everyone was a skeptic. Chairman Stevens asked Mitch Bainwol why it was a problem for him to essentially "TiVo" satellite or HD radio, and was unsatisfied with Bainwol's response that someone should have to pay extra for that.

Senator Smith revealed his cards on the audio broadcast flag portion of his draft legislation by suggesting that it could be used as exaction by the RIAA to bring the NAB and national satellite radio providers to the copyright licensing table.

Again, Senator Sununu broke it down for everyone to understand: the issue surrounding audio broadcast flag has more to do with performance licensing than it does with content protection. Touching on his conservative/libertarian themes of less government intrusion, he suggested that the problem was actually a deficiency of government intrusion into copyright licensing, not one of copy-controls.

All-in-all, today's hearing was a good first step in vetting the issues surrounding broadcast flag. Kudos to Leslie Harris of CDT for representing well the consumer interest.

In case you missed them, here are more quick links:

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Second Opinion on Broadcast Flag Draft

January 23, 2006

After Friday's blog post on the draft broadcast flag bill, it's been floating around quite a bit.

Lastly, there's a hearing on the broadcast and analog hole this Tuesday, Jan. 24. There's going to be a webcast, so make sure you tune in--especially since no consumer advocates involved with the broadcast flag proceedings in court are testifying.

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Remember the "Hollings bill" back from 2002? It was a bill that would essentially put a copyright cop in your consumer electronics and PCs--to ensure you didn't do anything with content that wasn't authorized by the content industry. The bill put copyright owners in control of innovation.

Here's the US Senate Draft of the "Digital Content Protection Act of 2006." Look familiar? It may go about it differently--but the DCPA is essentially the Hollings bill, only in pieces-parts. Instead of saying "one mandate to rule them all," the controls split into different proceedings at the FCC:

  • One that requires the FCC to adopt the broadcast flag, and amend it in anyway it sees fit (including total reconsideration and rewrite of the rules!!!)

  • Another that requires the FCC to adopt a radio flag for both over the air and satellite digital radio transmissions..."to prevent the indiscriminate unauthorized copying of copyrighted digital audio content transmitted by its licensees and the redistribution of such copyrighted content over digital networks."

We all understand the implications of the regular digital TV broadcast flag, but what about this version of a radio flag? At first glimpse, it may seem like there are aspects to like about it:

(d) to the extent that such regulations cover devices, cover only devices that are capable, without any hardware alterations or additions, of receiving digital audio signals when such devices are sold by a manufacturer.

and

(b) [Regulations shall] permit customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law;

And, thankfully, "public interest organizations" are permitted to submit proposals.

But, reading those parts alone does not give you the full picture. There's a little slight-of-hand going on here.

First, the bill says that the FCC regulations are only to cover devices that are capable of receiving digital audio signals. But if that's the case, why does the FCC need to develop "Secure Moving Technology"? Read here:

(B) objective criteria for approval by the Commission of methods of recording and Secure Moving Technology for material covered by the Broadcast Flag;

and here in the definitions section:

b) "Secure Moving Technology" is a technology that permits content covered by the Broadcast Flag to be transferred from a broadcast receiver to another device for rendering in accordance with customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law and that prevents redistribution of copyrighted content over digital networks.

So which is it? Is the FCC only permitted to regulate digital radio receiving devices, or do they get to regulate every device that touches a digital radio receiving device? Why does it matter? Well, it's the difference between the regulations only changing the design over digital radios, versus regulating iPods, PSPs, computers, cell phones. Am I missing something, or does this regulation gives FCC control over anything "that permits content...to be transferred...to another device"? My reading of that might even include the crude recording method of putting a microphone up to speakers (note the "Secure Moving Technology" doesn't include the word "digital").

Second, the bill says that the FCC's regulation had to "permit customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law;". But isn't that given--it's that pretty much one of the FCC's roles in protecting the public airwaves? When PK's and numerous public comments asked the FCC to protect our fair use rights, the FCC declined to design the broadcast flag to respect copyright law. Unfortunately, there's little in this bill to ensure that our fair use rights aren't cast aside.

What's not in this bill compared to Hollings '02? Closing the analog hole. Well, don't worry, that's already been introduced over in the House.

The fact remains that the main issue here is not about piracy, it's about control. The content industry needs a congressional mandate to control the functionality of consumer electronics and PCs, and in turn, what consumers can do with the devices and content they legally obtain.

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Google’s comments on “Broadband Extortion”

January 19, 2006

In case you haven't been reading the Breaking News clips, let alone this blog, you may have missed stories about broadband providers wanting to charge companies like Yahoo and Google for using the broadband bits.

Essentially, folks like SBC, Bell South, and Verizon have said that they want to put a toll on those who transmit data over their pipes.

If comments like that don't tell you why principles of net neutrality must be codified, then I don't know what will. Thankfully, the other side of the argument is starting to speak up.

Google finally spoke up against what some are callling "Cyberextortion." You can read more about what Google had to say here. The essential quote, which was specifically in response to Verizon's comments made at CES 2006 (thanks to Om Malik for getting that straight), is this:

We believe consumers are already paying to support broadband access to the Internet through subscription fees and, as a result, consumers should have the freedom to use this connection without limitations.

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The DL on DTV

January 17, 2006

Engadget has a great rundown of all the DTV technical jargon. It's a good read and really helps you understand all the technical lingo. It's just "Part 1," so make sure to check back soon.

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DRM != Security

January 13, 2006

I just found (thanks Slashdot) an article on Groklaw titled "Some Safety and Reliability Questions About DRM" by Victor Yodaiken. Mr Yodaiken opens his article with:

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are supposed to protect digitized "content", like movies and musical performances from being illicitly copied or used. DRM technology is sometimes described as security technology when it is really licensing technology -- something very different. In fact, DRM may decrease security and reliability.

and then presents several scenarios of how the insidious nature of rights-management systems can affect the systems we rely on to keep us safe. Give it a read. If it makes you queasy like it made me, give your representatives a call and let them know!

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CES 2006: The Year Content Showed Up

January 12, 2006

When asked what was big this year at CES, if you saw any of the keynote addresses, I think your answer would have to be Content: both with deals uniting tech and content companies, but also tech that used an intranet or the Internet to deliver content to consumers wherever they were and whenever they want.

Bill Gates from CES’ webpage At Bill Gates’s Keynote, he talked about how Microsoft software seamlessly transfers content to wherever the consumer wants to view it: whether two feet away on a computer display, ten feet away on a television display, or six inches away on a mobile display. He also introduced a new partnership for music (and assumably video) distribution called URGE with MTV, VH1, and CMT.

Sir Howard Stringer from CES’ webpage Sir Howard Stringer’s Keynote stressed how Sony was in a unique position being both a technology and content company. He discussed a handful of different segments of Sony’s business that united the two parts of the company—introducing a number of famous artists (Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks) to explain how technology empowers them. He ended his keynote with the following quote:

“Content and technology are strange bedfellows. We are joined together. Sometimes we misunderstand each other. But isn’t that after all the definition of marriage?”

Terry Semel from CES’ webpage Terry Semel’s Keynote promoted ideas of mobility, but more so from the vantage point of the consumer / creator, and how the Yahoo! Go technology would aid in that. With a Yahoo! account, photos taken on a camera phone would instantly show up on a computer or television display. A TiVo user who didn’t want to miss a show but had already left the house only needed to select the show from her mobile phone, and the Yahoo! Go system would ensure it was recorded. He also stressed that for all these technologies to work together, standards must be open, just like the Internet. He closed by saying that the walled garden approach won’t work anymore.

Larry Page from CES’ website The last of the keynotes was delivered by Larry Page in a way that only Google’s Co-founder could present it. He addressed the first half of his keynote to innovators, asking them to examine everyday problems that had little to no relation his company, but would benefit the industry and the public at large. Later, of course, he discussed Google Video, which had up ‘til then provided anyone with a free online content distribution. At the keynote, he talked about how it could now be used by anyone to earn revenue, including big name partners like CBS and the NBA. Additionally, Google’s system can be formatted for download to popular consumer devices like the Apple iPod and Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). At the end, he stressed that the Internet was built and has grown to be a place of amazing innovation because of its openness.

Of course, this theme did not end at the keynotes, it was carried out in devices and technology on the floor of the show.

Slingbox Sony Location Free TV SlingMedia and Sony showed similar technologies that enable consumers to send television from their home to a remote laptop, cellphone, or PSP over the Internet.

Tivo-to-go TiVo previewed a TiVo-to-go update that recorded analog television and provided playback on the ever-popular Apple iPod and PSP.

Digital Deck device ports on Digital Deck device

Independent developers like DigitalDeck and NewSoft showed devices that enable consumers to view content from their analog consumer electronics (DVD, VHS, cable boxes, etc) sent over the home network to other rooms of the house. They did this at a fairly low price because they built to industry standards and used off-the-shelf software and hardware.

Inno XM2go

XM introduced the Inno XM2go, a portable satellite radio with Pioneer at the show that allowed paying subscribers tag favorite songs and shows to “TiVo” at later times. The recorded music can only be listened to on the radio itself, but when connected to a computer, XM teamed up with Napster to provide music downloads based on the tagged content on the radio.

All of this new innovation and tech/media convergence rely on two things: marketplace (not government mandated) rights management and net neutrality.

What would happen to any of the great new technologies with an imposed broadcast flag? HD Radio protection? Or Analog Hole corking? None of them currently comply, and to reengineer them and submit them for government approval would be extremely costly. The smaller independent developers would likely close up shop. Consumers would have to pay an arm and a leg to upgrade and get the new devices to work with their current technologies. In the process, most aspects of these new innovations would be lost.

For the devices that connect to and send information over the Internet, their function relies on the ability to connect any device to the network. Their success depends on an unencumbered Internet that permits applications to work or content to flow freely over a consumer’s Internet connection. As Larry Page said, that’s the way the Internet has always worked. Despite comments made by broadband providers, hopefully the telecom policy will maintain this innovation-enabling net neutrality.

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More Silo Talk

January 12, 2006

Erik Lagerway, by way of Om Malik has a great post on the trouble with regulating application by application instead of maintaining a neutral pipe. Check it out here.

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CES Report 5 — over and out

January 7, 2006

Ed Whitacre finally got his answer from someone of equal stature. You may recall, and you should as we endlessly beat on this, the AT&T Chairman saying that companies like Google should have to pay something to companies like AT&T (formerly SBC, formerly formerly Southwestern Bell) to access their network.

This evening, Google founder Larry Page replied. In Q&A following his product presentations, Page was asked to respond to Whitacre. Page said that the Internet has always been about open-ness. He recalled that Google started out as a Stanford research project, which began eating up more and more bandwidth and partner Sergei Brin began developing Google. If they had to pay for all of that access, Page said, Google probably wouldn't have existed. Putting restrictions on the Internet would be "a horrible thing," Page said.

On the product side, the long-rumored didn't occur. Neither the Google PC nor the Google DRM was introduced. Instead, they produced some nifty new applications, like a Google map version for your car that can either help you get where you're going or get you killed if you watch it instead of the road.

He also announced an enhanced Google video, with real commercial content from partners like the NBA and CBS. CBS Chmn. Les Moonves was on hand for the announcement. Old Paramount shows, like Star Trek, also will be available for purchase.

The evening's entertainment came from Robin Williams, who told more jokes I couldn't remember, and even if I could, wouldn't repeat them here.

However, it was sort of mystifying that given its status as the NUMBER ONE show in America, that no one from CSI: LAS VEGAS was on hand. Maybe next year.

That's all. Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

rgds,

Art

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