FCC brings its regulatory power to the Internet

FCC brings its regulatory power to the Internet
Despite the best efforts of those of us who saw this coming, the FCC this week passed a sweeping, 72-page set of regulations governing the distribution of digital TV, whether its broadcast or streamed. Publicly, the “Broadcast Flag” regulations were presented as a way to limit piracy, but the regulations are so broad as to include PCs and the Internet. CNET’s Declan McCullagh has an excellent piece on the subject that is must reading for those unfamiliar with the scope of the regulations.

What FCC officials did not stress, but their regulations do, is that the product definitions are broad enough to cover not just TV tuners but also PCs. “This necessarily includes PC and (information technology) products that are used for off-air DTV (digital television) reception,” the FCC’s order says.
McCullagh notes that people like Will Rodger, director of public policy at the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), believe the hand of the federal government is now encroaching in an area that has flourished without regulation. “The immediate effect isn’t so huge,” Rodger said. “What it really affects is the tuner cards that go into your computer. But there’s a real slippery slope here. This is going to draw the FCC into the Internet, unless it makes a conscious decision not to go there…It’s difficult to see how the FCC and the government won’t get more directly involved in designing hardware, routers and other devices.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood is rejoicing in the knowledge that the federal government is now lining their deep pockets with the power of law. Here’s my biggest beef with this. Broadcasting, that meaning free, over-the-air television, is a dying industry. The FCC has had power over it, because the airwaves were always thought to be free. The FCC is supposedly the champion protecting that, with broad powers in determining how that “free air” can be used. Cable television has been free of regulation, because what flows along that wire is between you and the company that owns it. The same has been true of the Internet. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has successfully used the ploy of propping up over-the-air television (“This is a big victory for consumers and the preservation of high value over-the-air free broadcasting.”) to get regulations that help it with all those wires. And the FCC has seized the opportunity to stick its powerful finger where it doesn’t belong. One can only hope congress smells the same rat I do.

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