Thursday, May 22, 2003

That Dastardly Cable Communication Plot - Or Is It?

Bill Hobbs, Rich Hailey, Instapundit and South Knox Bubba have been bouncing around this communications bill the Tennessee legislature (SB 213 and HB 457) is considering. It's been panned by the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA), Philips, and Sharp Electronics.

Rich says:

"Let's think about what this actually says. Any device that can connect to a communication services without the consent of the service is unlawful. That includes everything folks! Can a VCR acquire a cable signal without the consent of the transmitter. You betcha! It would be unlawful under this definition. Same for a Tivo. Heck, it's the same for a home theater sound system."
Bill says:

"Under HB 457 and SB 213, if the cable company or telecom does not expressly authorize you to connect a device to their service, the legal inference is automatically created that you intended to defraud the service provider. What follows could then be civil and/or criminal legal proceedings against you."
Glennapundit says:

"As I wrote in my TechCentralStation column yesterday, this kind of legislation undercuts FCC Chairman Michael Powell's argument that the openness of the Internet means that we don't need to worry about media concentration. If Powell were busy defending the Internet against this sort of intrusion, I'd feel a lot better about his claims."
But then Bubba sez:

"So what's the big deal? All this does is provide better protection for phone companies, cable companies, and ISPs from theft of their services by hackers and crackers and other criminals.

There is NOTHING in the proposed changes that would outlaw home networks, smart refrigerators, and so on. There is NOTHING that would make it illegal under state law to hook up one or more computers through a cable modem without notifying your cable company. That would depend on your cable company's terms of service."
Ok. At the surface, this is all seems just a bit silly. It appears likely to me the law was designed to do exactly what it seems: to keep people from illegally recieving cable services by hijacking a line. Clearly that would be "without the consent of the service".

To infer that a TV, cable box, or even a Tivo, home stereo or an XBox could be considered an "unlawful communication device" would negate the purpose of cable in the first place. When you sign up for cable service, wouldn't the cable company expect you to actually use it? What possible purpose would there be to prohibit devices from using the cable? It'd be like the phone company outlawing phones. I think regardless whether or not the measure passes, if the cable industry were actually to invoke such restrictions it would be a PR nightmare for them, plus if they tried to outlaw ownership of Tivo's in favor of a home-grown system...well, you think Microsoft had problems....

Hrmmm, those guys can punt this around all day if they like - I just find it interesting that three conservative bloggers - Rich, Bill and Insta - are concerned it will curtail some of our electronic freedoms, while the liberal blogger - Bubba - thinks it's being blown out of proportion. I haven't seen it mentioned on other blogs, so I may not have enough of a baseline to draw a conclusion, but it seems pretty much status quo: Conservatives expect the worst from people and organizations, but prepare for it; liberals expect the best from people and organizations but are slow to recognize deception. Which is better? Depends on the circumstances. (It would've been interesting to see a couple of the guys take opposite opinions on this issue).

It seems our key argument here is: Ok, if the bills pass the cable industry might have the right to make certain access devices illegal. The question is: would they? Yes or no, you decide - just don't base your opinion because of which side of the aisle you sit.

UPDATE: Bubba publishes a novel on his latest research in cable anti-theft legislation. Pull up a chair for this one - I think he's been channeling Steve Den Beste.

No comments:

Post a Comment