The 109th Congress goes home for good in two days, and Public Knowledge and its industry and non-profit colleagues have been busy making sure that there are no surprises in this lame duck session. First, on Monday, the Digital Freedom Campaign (with PK as a signatory) sent a letter to the Hill asking them to “oppose any last-minute efforts being mounted by the music industry to enact the so-called Audio Flag legislation.” And yesterday, David Rehr of the National Association of Broadcasters and Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association sent a letter that focuses on the negative impact an audio flag would have on new digital broadcast (or so-called “HD”) radio service. Digital broadcast radio allows over-the-air broadcasters to provide two or more program streams at once, but unlike digital television, consumers need not buy HD radio receivers to continue receiving plain old broadcast radio. This “strange bedfellows” alliance is particularly significant, since the two trade associations are often at war with each other over issues such as the timetable for the transition to digital television and whether the FCC should have mandated tuners for digital TV sets. But as the New York Times reported yesterday (registration required) HD Radios are starting to flood the market, and neither industry can ignore the potential loss of revenue from a technology mandate that would make buying these radios unattractive to consumers.
As I wrote last week, a possible vehicle for flag nonsense is a “tax extenders” bill that would seek to revive and extend certain tax cuts and credits, including the research and development credit coveted by the tech industry. The Washington Post reports today (registration required) that the bill is now bottled up in the Senate because legislators are trying to add non-germane, controversial provisions onto the bill, including those affecting trade, health care, coal mining and offshore drilling. While we haven't received any reports as of yet that either the video or audio flags are in play, we won't rest easy until Friday comes. So if you haven't already sent a letter to your representatives in Congress on this matter, please use our action center to do it now.