Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Advisory

FCC Getting Fuzzy on Digital Television

Consumers Should Get Full Benefits of Hi-Res Devices

For Immediate Release: Monday, March 15, 2004

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to prevent satellite and cable television providers from intentionally reducing the quality of digital television signals on analog outputs, a practice known as "down-rezzing." Endorsed by the motion picture industry as a content-protection measure, the practice would force people who have invested in high-definition digital television equipment to accept inferior-quality content.

Over five million American consumers have already purchased high-definition displays (such as flat panel plasma screens) that have only analog inputs, and therefore depend on analog outputs from cable and satellite set-top boxes for high-definition programming. The FCC has already prohibited the use of down-rezzing for any high-definition broadcast television signals retransmitted on cable or satellite, so these consumers can rest easy that their favorite network TV shows will remain available in high quality for their existing equipment. The question remains, however, whether programming on "premium" channels like HBO and ESPN will be subject to signal degradation over analog outputs. By down-grading the quality of programs on analog outputs, Hollywood hopes to push TV viewers to use content-protected digital outputs, irrespective of the impact on the millions of Americans who have equipment that depends on analog outputs.

"If I have paid for high-definition ESPN or HBO, there is no reason that I should be forced to use a lower-quality analog signal just because the motion picture industry wants to impose more content protection restrictions on me," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Until the FCC acts to prohibit 'down-rezzing,' consumers won't know whether their DirecTV and cable set-top boxes will continue to provide them with the high-definition content they paid for."

Despite the potential negative consequences for consumers, DirecTV and the National Cable Television Association have filed comments supporting down-rezzing, fearing that the motion picture industry would otherwise withhold content from satellite and cable broadcasters.

EFF joins other organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association, Home Recording Rights Coalition, Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America in urging the FCC to prevent down-rezzing of digital television signals.