FCC lets TiVo users share shows

TiVo gets regulatory reprieve: Forthcoming digital TV-sharing feature won't be banned by government after all.

TiVo users will be able to share copies of digital TV shows through the Internet with a small number of friends and family members, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday.

The Alviso, Calif.-based company, which sells a popular digital video recorder, had applied for government authorization so its customers could receive digital broadcasts and share them with up to 10 other TiVo units that share the same customer account. TiVo's forthcoming "Digital Output Protection Technology" is designed to prevent the files from being distributed more widely.

FCC rulings
The Federal Communications Commission was anything but idle this week. Among the technology-related decisions approved at a meeting Wednesday:

• Internet: Broadband providers and Internet phone services must comply with wiretapping requirements designed for the traditional phone network.

• Spam: E-mail spam sent to mobile devices without permission will be illegal. Politicians, charities, and nonprofit groups are exempt.

• TiVo: The company's planned file-sharing service wins a reprieve from attempts by major movie studios and the NFL to declare it illegal.

• Fiber: Broadband providers may have more reasons to run fiber connections to multiunit dwellings like apartment and condo buildings. The FCC says those fiber links will be deregulated.

• E-rate: The controversial e-rate program, which has been plagued by fraud and waste, will be the subject of more audits. E-rate levies taxes on anyone using cell phones, pagers or landlines, with the money going to pay for cheaper rural phone service and to subsidize schools and libraries.

• Digital TV: Digital TV broadcasters will be required to choose what channels they eventually want to use, in what the FCC says is a near-final step in completing the transition away from analog television.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the National Football League had lobbied the FCC to say the planned security system did not follow the so-called "broadcast flag" requirements the government adopted last November. TiVo's copy-protection technology was "promising" but does not provide copyright holders with sufficient ability to control how their works are shared, the MPAA told regulators.

Under the broadcast flag rules, starting in mid-2005 it will become illegal to sell or distribute any product that can receive certain digital TV streams--unless it includes government-approved copy protection.

But the government ended up granting TiVo the regulatory reprieve. The FCC said at its meeting Wednesday that TiVo's security system will be "appropriate for use" when receiving digital TV signals broadcast over the airwaves.

FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin voted to authorize TiVo but said he would have preferred imposing "proximity controls" on consumers. "I am concerned that Tivo's technology does not include sufficient constraints," he said. "All of the other technologies requesting approval from us have adopted proximity controls or similar mechanisms to limit content redistribution outside the home at this time."

The FCC also authorized about a dozen other technologies as meeting broadcast flag standards, including Sony's "Magic Gate" recording technology, Philips Electronics and Hewlett-Packard's Vidi Recordable DVD Protection System, and Microsoft's Windows Media Digital Rights Management.

"TiVo has always tried to maintain an appropriate balance between consumer interests and the rights of content providers," TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the industry to develop new technologies that provide a great entertainment experience for consumers while protecting the rights of content providers."

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