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Senate Commerce of Unlike Minds on Broadcast Flag

The senators most focused on communications issues are split when it comes to supporting the FCC’s plan to require that DTV equipment honor broadcasters’ restrictions on retransmitting TV stations’ content over the Internet.

Monday, two senior members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC, urged the commission to stick with its plans to approve the broadcast flag requirement this week.

"Providing digital broadcast with the same protection as digital satellite and cable transmission is critical to preventing the migration of digital content from free TV" to subscription TV services, Sen. Ernest Hollings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell Monday. Joining Hollings was Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Their committee colleague Sam Brownback, however, is urging the FCC to slow down. The Kansas Republican called on the FCC to drop plans to approve the flag mandate in a vote behind closed doors and instead hold an en banc hearing on the issue.

"The commission should go to great lengths to explain why it is necessary to implement the broadcast flag at this time, and in a non-public manner."

Critics of the flag say it will be years before broadcasters face a credible threat from digital-to-digital Internet duplication the regime is designed to stop and will do nothing to stop the immediate problem of illegal transmission of digital content downcoverted to analog.

Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed reservations about the flag two weeks ago.