Sununu Wants to Squelch FCC Flag Raising

U.S. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) pledged Monday to introduce legislation to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from imposing either broadcast or audio flags on electronics makers.

Major content providers, such as Hollywood studios and music publishers, heavily endorse the technology as a way to prevent consumers from making unauthorized copies of digital movies and music. Flags are embedded code in broadcast or audio streams that block further retransmission.

“Whether well-intentioned or not, the FCC has no business interfering in private industry to satisfy select special interests or to impose its own views,” Sununu said in a statement. “My legislation will ensure that decisions about the design and development of products and services to meet FCC rules are made by technology experts, not government regulators.”

Jeff Grappone, a spokesman for Sununu’s office, told Sununu would also oppose any legislation authorizing the FCC to impose broadcast and audio flags. “If the items looked like they have in the past, yes, he would oppose them,” he said.

Sununu added Monday, “The FCC seems to be under the belief that it should occasionally impose technology mandates. These misguided requirements distort the marketplace by forcing industry to adopt agency-blessed solutions rather than allow innovative and competitive approaches to develop.”

Under pressure from the music and movie industry and several key members of Congress, the FCC in 2004 adopted broadcast flag regulations, requiring electronic equipment capable of receiving digital television to include broadcast flag technology. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the regulations in 2005 as beyond the regulatory scope of the FCC.

“There is no statutory foundation for the broadcast flag rules,” the court ruled. “[The law] does not authorize the commission to regulate receiver apparatus after a transmission is complete.”

Blocked by the courts, Hollywood turned to Congress last year, asking lawmakers to pass legislation to allow the FCC to include broadcast and audio-flag technology in telecom reform legislation.

The House did not include any flag regulations in its telecom reform bill. The Senate Commerce Committee approved the use of the technology, but the bill never came up for a vote in the Senate. Ultimately, Congress made no decision on the technology or the FCC’s ability to impose it.

Neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the Recording Industry Association of America returned a request for comment.

“I think it’s a fine idea to eliminate tech mandates,” Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, an Internet public advocacy group, told “We know that tech mandates are not good for consumers and are not good for the industry.”

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