While everyone is basking in the reasonableness of the FCC’s plan to place broadband Internet access under Title II, the Media Bureau decided to sneak out a decision to prove that change doesn’t spread everywhere at once. After two years of considering the issue, and thousands of comments from the public (the overwhelming majority of which urged the Bureau to reject the petition), the Bureau decided to grant the MPAA’s request for Selectable Output Control (SOC).
Now, I know that the important news of the week is the Title II decision, and I can handle coming up short every once in a while. What really gets to me about this decision isn’t that the Bureau decided it the wrong way. It is that no one has been able to put forth even a single compelling reason to turn on SOC.
The MPAA essentially put forward two arguments for SOC: preventing piracy and giving people trapped at home (specifically citing the physically challenged, elderly, and/or parents of children unable to find or afford babysitters) easier access to movies. Both of these arguments are bunkum.
Let’s start with the piracy argument. For the sake of argument, let’s overlook the fact that even a federal government report recognizes that industry claims about piracy are . . . um . . . “unsubstantiated.” Let’s also overlook the fact that studios themselves are often the source of illegal copies of films online. For fun, let’s also overlook that creating more locks on media and making it harder to access actually drives people away from legitimate content. Instead, let’s just examine the security of the DRM that studios are imposing on the public.
As we have mentioned before, it has already been cracked. Of course, as we have also pointed out, once one person can crack a type of DRM and create one infringing copy, there are potentially thousands of copies immediately available to the public. Studios are asking the public to trade the use of any analog inputs on their devices for more magic beans.
Now let’s turn to the “helping people trapped at home argument.” This argument is also bogus. How do I know? Two obvious reasons jump to mind. First, the restrictions that the MPAA would like to be exempted from only apply to cable boxes. You know those web enabled Blu-ray players, those Roku boxes, and those Boxee boxes (among others) you have heard so much about? There is nothing preventing studios from using digital-only outputs to deliver movies with those. So naturally if you are infirm, or have small children that prevent you from getting out of the house, you can watch pre-DVD releases on those. Right? Um, no.
But wait. The MPAA really does care about helping people who can’t easily get out to a movie theater or a movie rental store. And really, those web enabled devices are only niche services. What if there was some sort of service that would allow you to pay to rent a DVD and have that DVD mailed directly to your house? Oh wait, sorry again. That wildly popular service, Netflix, has been forced by studios to delay DVD access by an additional 28 days, thus making it harder for folks to pay to access movies.
A final argument that people put forward is that, as other web enabled services become more popular, the ban on SOC for cable boxes alone would become an anomaly. Fair enough. So why didn’t SOC proponents make that argument? One reason might be because it would require them to admit that online video (or “over the top” video) is a potential competitor to traditional MVPD services. On Wednesday Comcast and NBC/Universal tied themselves in knots trying to prove that no one would really see online video as an alternative to traditional cable.
I know this is a bit of a rant, and that I should really focus on the far more important things going on with Title II. However, it is frustrating when somewhere like the Media Bureau of the FCC, which should be looking out for the public interest, accepts “because we want it, and we are studios” as a compelling reason to screw millions of Americans.