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FCC lets cablecos off multicast hook

Washington Roundup A blow for digital broadcasting

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Washington Roundup

Cablecos cannot be forced to carry multicast streams from broadcasters, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided. According to Chairman Michael Powell, the Commission lacks the authority to mandate such an arrangement, but would like to see voluntary deals being made.

The broadcast industry has shown little enthusiasm for giving up its analog bandwidth, which the FCC would like to auction off for other uses, but it is nevertheless keen to encourage digital TV adoption so that it can pump out more insipid content, and rigidly control consumers' use of it. Bringing cable operators into the fold is thought to be a means of speeding the transition, but it now appears that the National Broadcasters' Association will have to resort to a bit more carrot and a bit less stick to accomplish it.


The 109th Congress has wasted little time in chilling on-air speech by dramatically increasing so-called indecency fines. The House is working on a bill to raise the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 per incident for broadcasters and performers. The Senate is working on a similar, if slightly milder, bill of its own. The House version includes a provision to hold broadcast license revocation hearings after a third violation, and eliminates the first-time warning that performers have, until now, enjoyed. Although the two bills will have to be reconciled in conference committee, whatever monstrosity emerges will soon make it too expensive to say anything on the air that someone doesn't want to hear.


The House on Thursday passed a new Gestapo measure, called the Real ID Act, that mandates a standard national format for driver's licenses, making them de facto national identity documents. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be in charge of developing the format and numerous other final specifications. The cards must feature anti-counterfeiting measures, machine readable elements (RFID), and anything else that DHS thinks would be useful in assembling dossiers on the entire US populace, and tracking the movements of anyone who piques its interest.

State motor-vehicle departments will be required to verify each driver's Social Security number, and maintain their digital photographs in a database along with all data that DHS deems relevant. States that fail to link their databases with those of all other states (and presumably with "the appropriate federal authorities") would become ineligible for federal money. Naturally, the entire purpose of this scheme is to prevent terrorists from killing us.


Former cybersecurity Czar and counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke has volunteered for media attention again, this time to re-iterate his contention that we would all be immeasurably better off if the Bush Administration had only listened to him. Clarke again insists that he had sniffed out al Qaeda's intentions, but had to beg then National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to take a meeting with him. Why this should be news, we can't say; Clarke has already said as much in his recent book and in testimony before Congress and the 9/11 Commission. Another book launch must be in the offing.


More relevant to security paranoiacs is the recent leaking of an undisclosed 9/11 Commission report that faults the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for failing to heed warnings from its own security apparatus which might have enabled the government to prevent the 9/11 atrocities. There were, it appears, over fifty warnings of al Qaeda and bin Laden relevance sent to the FAA between April and September of 2001, and five of these actually mentioned that al Qaeda members were training for hijackings. The report makes it clear that the FAA was well aware of the possibility of suicide hijackings, but did little to address the issue. The Bush Administration has refused to release the full version of the report to the public, in order to keep terrorists from killing us.


Overrated internet phenomenon and failed Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been created Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the delight of Republicans. The former Vermont Governor, renowned for a wild moment of bestial screaming played endlessly on television during his campaign, promises to translate the party's message into language comprehensible to red-state yokels. How the over-educated New England liberal intends to execute this feat is not yet clear, but no doubt his internet savvy can be counted on to solve all problems. In competition for the post, Dean miraculously defeated former Democratic Indiana US Representative (and semi-hawkish, old-fashioned pro-life liberal) Tim Roemer, a man who might just have been able to do what Dean imagines doing, even without the internet.

The politically ambitious are advised to start sucking up to Jeb Bush without delay. ®

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