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FCC deadline looms for digital TV

Friday will mark the final day for public comment on proposed regulations that would eventually implant anti-copying technology into digital TV sets.

Friday will mark the final day for public comment on a Federal Communications Commission proposal that requires digital TV sets to implement anti-piracy technology.

If the FCC approves the proposal, TV manufacturers will be required to install technologies to prevent illicit distribution of digital broadcasts. Digital broadcast signals would be encoded with a "broadcast flag" indicating that TV shows may not be broadcast freely.

The proposed rule has stirred up heated debate between technology companies and the entertainment industry. Many consumer-electronics and PC manufacturers oppose the regulation, claiming it would limit consumers' use of recorded content. But entertainment companies, which have pushed hardest for the requirement, say it would help fight piracy and unwarranted distribution of their content on the Internet.

Digital broadcasts are expected to change the way people watch television and to open the doors to a new breed of TV sets. But entertainment companies and broadcasters fear that free digital signals, which offer pristine audio and video quality, will be copied and then distributed widely on online file-sharing service such as Morpheus or Kazaa.

The FCC so far has received more than 1,400 comments, according to its Web site, most of them from concerned consumers. The big lobbying groups representing broadcast, consumer-electronics, movie and music companies are not expected to file their comments until late Friday.

The Consumer Federation of America, which represents state and national consumer groups, voiced opposition to the rule on Thursday, saying it would limit traditional fair use rights.

"This proposal is a dramatic attack on the consumer's right to use content that has been legally obtained while doing little to deter large-scale commercial piracy of digital content," Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation, said in a statement.

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After the Friday deadline, companies have until Jan. 17 to file reply comments. From there, the FCC will review the comments and determine whether the proposal will turn into a regulation.

Congress has been pressing the FCC to adopt these rules. Top leaders from both the Senate and the House have pressed FCC Chairman Michael Powell to work toward implementing the broadcast flag.