Consumer Group Wants “Downres” Ban

The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to completely ban the practice of program-by-program “downresolution,” the remote signaling of home devices to degrade the quality of an HDTV signal for both viewing and recording out of concern that the signal might be recorded.

In December, the cable industry and 14 manufacturers of television sets submitted a plan to the FCC commonly known as the “plug and play” agreement which provides for home recorders to be directly attached to digital cable systems without the use of a set-top box, and adopts “encoding rules” to protect consumers’ “reasonable and customary recording practices.”

In exchange for requiring devices to implement secure digital connections, the agreement provides for FCC-adopted encoding rules that prevent content providers and distributors from abusing such technology by frustrating reasonable consumer practices.

These encoding rules do no allow for content providers or distributors to turn off consumer home interfaces on a program-by-program basis, a practice called “selectable output control,” which has been heavily criticized by key members of Congress. The agreement extends such protection against a similarly criticized practice, the “downresolution” of HDTV programming, in the case of free terrestrial broadcasts, but leaves it up to the FCC whether such protection should be extended for other programming.

“This ground breaking agreement not only promises to propel the DTV transition forward by accessing the nearly 70 million U.S. cable households, but, through the agreement’s encoding rules, it also preserves consumers’ customary expectations in the digital era,” said HRRC Chairman Gary Shapiro. “This protection will be completed by a total ban on the practice of downresolution, which could deprive at least four million consumers of the ability to watch HDTV cable and satellite programming, even though they own HDTV receivers and subscribe to these services.”

As the HRRC, an advocacy group for consumers’ rights to use home electronics products for private, non-commercial purposes, explained in a Friday FCC filing, if a set-top box, connected to an HD-ready display through the connectors on most HDTV receivers sold to date, receives a “downers” signal, it removes half the horizontal and half the vertical resolution, resulting in a picture with only one-quarter of the pixels intended for viewing.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has advocated this technique to support HDTV copy protection. The HRRC filing, however, points out that, before attempting to retransmit an HDTV signal over the Internet, consumers would have to compress and degrade it severely anyway.

HRRC wrote in the filing, “It would be bitterly ironic if the Commission, in approving the plug and play regulations, would smooth the way toward a swift and successful roll-out of DTV to the consumer, but simultaneously erect in its path the twin roadblocks of selectable output control and downresolution.”

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