Why We Fear The FCC

The Engadget headline on Monday appeared at first exaggerated: the FCC says it has power over anything that can receive and play a digital file. But, the short news entry reveals the truth of the headline:

In a brief filed in a suit brought against the Broadcast Flag by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and PublicKnowlegde, the FCC argues that not only do they have the right to regulate that all digital TVs, settop boxes, digital video recorders, satellite receivers, DVD recorders, etc. only be able to receive authorized content, that they also have regulatory power over all instrumentalities, facilities, and apparatus associated with the overall circuit of messages sent and received’ via all interstate radio and wire communication. And yes, that also means your PC, your cellphone, or basically anything else that is capable of receiving a digital file and engages in some sort of communication.

ArsTechnica followed up with a more detail post that explains the contrary position held by consumers and digital rights advocates:

In March of this year challenges were brought against the FCC’s authority in this matter when the Electronic Frontier Foundation and eight other public interest groups filed a lawsuit over the matter. The brief was updated with further challenges last October, which merit repeating.
[quote]…the FCC has no authority to regulate digital TV sets and other digital devices unless specifically instructed to do so by Congress. While the FCC does have jurisdiction over TV transmissions, transmissions are not at issue here. The broadcast flag limits the way digital material can be used after the broadcast has already been received

Kurt Macky, the author of the Ars piece, doesn’t hold out much hope. He’s seen the path the FCC has been on, and doesn’t seem to think it will be swayed easily.

It’s clear that there’s a desperate need for more legislative oversight in these matters. The FCC should be seeking the will of the people, through elected representatives, before making industy-centric decisions aimed at commercial markets. The irony is, it won’t be possible to circumvent the broadcast flag without facing legal repercussions, while at the same time I’m still not able benefit from one of the few pro-consumer rulings the FCC has handed down in the recent past, due to the FCC’s apparent disinterest in enforcing rulings for “the little guy.”

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