Stevens Bill Part II — The Bad Stuff (Broadcast Flag).

Like the thin cows of Pharoh’s dream devouring the fat cows, the bad parts of the Stevens Bill overwhelm the good parts. (My, I’m feeling biblical today. Perhaps because this legislation feels like such a prelude to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.)

Leaving aside the video franchising provision, which I leave to my friends at Free Press,, and Alliance for Community Media, I find the damage the Stevens Bill would do to municipal broadband and network neutrality, combined with the broadcast flag mandates, make this bill a “must kill” in its current form.

Again, because there is just so much bad stuff here, I need to break it up into different chunks. First up, just when you thought you could buy a new TV in peace — THE RETURN OF THE BROADCAST FLAG!

For whatever reason, the Stevens Bill contains a host of truly unpleasant provisions. Taking them in order, we first come to Title IV Subtitle C, the “Digital Content Protection Act of 2006,” aka The “The MPAA/RIAA Need More Protection Than You Do” Act. This section explicitly authorizes the FCC to impose the “broadcast flag” requirments it adopted in 2004 for TV, and requires them to impose similar controls on digital radio. The act makes a modest nod to fair use, and requires the FCC to set up an advisory board representing everyone presumed to be a stakeholder to recommend policy on audio broadcast flag to the FCC. (Man, this takes me back to my flippin’ ICANN days.)

For those just tuning in, “broadcast flag” describes a particular form of content control to allow a copyright holder to dictate the terms under which digital content gets used. You can find a good (albeit somewhat dated) summary from EFF here.

Let us pause for a moment to savor the sheer hypocracy of including broadcast flag in a supposedly “deregulatory” bill that justifies itself on the grounds of “getting rid of government mandates,” “promoting competition,” and the rest of that Libertarian rhetoric so beloved by conservatives until an industry they like asks for its own special favors. Apparently, we “consumers” are not meant to participate in the “market” as full fledged speakers and producers and innovators and users, so regulating us and the equipment we use is o.k., since we’ll just blow our free speech rights on piracy and pornography. Hmmm……I feel my brain shutting down already. And, of course, giving the music cartel and the movie cartel a leg up over the tech industry promotes deregulation because . . . because . . . ummm…… IT JUST DOES, O.K.

Heck, if the market can work out something as economically complex as network neutrality, why shouldn’t the market get to work out the broadcast flag? I suspect there is just as much consumer demand for the copyright barons to set controls on use of audio and video content as there is consumer demand to allow cable and telco companies to set download speeds based on which third parties pay extra for “premium.”

O.K., fun time over. Stevens probably hit on the only way to get cable and telcos to go along with broadcast flag — as the price of entry for franchise reform and gutting network neutrality. Kudos to Stevens, sucks for us, and produces a good belly laugh for the avid reader who loves irony in the sausage factory.

But the assault on competition and average citizens (thats “consumers” to you) as only just begun! We now move on to Title V, the “Community Broadband Act.” Which I will discuss in my next post.

Next posts on Stevens Bill:
Impact on Municipal Broadband
Impact on Network Neutrality
A Network Neutrality Primer

Previous post Stevens Bill:
What to like in the Stevens Bill: White Spaces and Program Access

Stay tuned . . .

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