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McCain Wants Broadcast-Flag Answers

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants answers from the Federal Communications Commission about the broadcast flag, a pending federal mandate that would block consumers from transmitting digital-broadcast programming over the Internet.

In an Oct. 16 letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell, McCain said he was troubled that the broadcast flag could place new limits on home recording, could fail to protect digital-broadcast content if it is later redigitized after transiting analog devices and could require consumers to buy new equipment with each upgrade in broadcast-flag technology.

"Given these apparent doubts about the effectiveness of a broadcast flag, has the [FCC] considered whether the anticipated benefit to be derived from such a mandate justifies its potential cost to consumers?" McCain wrote.

Broadcasters and Hollywood content producers are backing the broadcast flag, calling it an important first step to ensure that their industries don't find themselves losing ground like the slumping music industry in the war on content piracy.

"I respect their legitimate desire to protect their valuable content," McCain added. "I would be concerned, however, if such protection means consumers must face an endless cycle of replacing their home electronic devices each time the next, incremental piece of the piracy solution is unveiled."

Recently, Powell told reporters he expected the agency to adopt the broadcast flag in October. He said he didn't expect the issue to create partisan divisions.