June 27, 2017

Broadcast Flag Confusion

In today’s New York Times, Stephen Labaton reports on the continuing controversy over the FCC’s impending Broadcast Flag rules. In the midst of a back-and-forth about the rules, Labaton writes this:

An F.C.C. official said, for instance, that the broadcast flag could contain software code that was recognized by computer routers in a way that the program would self-destruct after passing through three routers while being e-mailed by a user.

Somebody is really confused here about how the Internet works. Maybe it’s the reporter, or maybe it’s the FCC source, or maybe (God forbid) both.

If this statement bears any connection to reality, it’s cause for serious worry. I can’t think of any way of translating the statement into a technically coherent form that doesn’t involve the FCC redesigning the basic workings of the Internet.

UPDATE (8:55 PM): Seth Schoen has solved the mystery; see his comment. The mystery sentence looks like a very confused attempt to explain the fact that DTCP-over-IP sets the Time-To-Live field on its IP packets equal to three.

Comments

  1. It sounds like what was meant is:

    The broadcast flag contains a hops-to-live (HTL) feature that allows the work to be copied only N generations (each time the work is copied, the HTL of the copy is decremented until no copying is permitted). This way, email copies could only go through three people.

  2. Oops, “people” should be “demodulators from broadcast to playback”.

  3. This is probably supposed to be a reference to the
    decision by the DTLA to allow DTCP over IP. One
    of the things that DTLA licensees are supposed to
    do when sending DTCP over IP is to set the IP TTL
    to 3, in the name of preventing DTCP data from
    being sent more than 3 hops over the Internet.
    (Obviously, this is very easy to get around using
    VPNs and the like.)

    Presumably the connection between this and the
    broadcast flag got garbled somewhere along the
    chain. If the FCC adopts a rule permitting ATSC
    receivers to output to DTCP, the manufacturers
    can, under the DTLA license, then output these
    broadcasts over TCP/IP networks provided they set the
    TTL to 3. That doesn’t mean that the broadcast
    flag itself is doing this (it’s government
    regulation, not the flag!) or that the messages
    are really “self-destructing” (they’re just
    expiring using the normal IP TTL decrement
    mechanism).

    The DTCP copy-control state people have proposed
    for use with the broadcast flag (“marked content”)
    is called “Copy Freely”. Of course, this doesn’t
    really mean “Copy Freely”. It means, in effect,
    copy freely by means of a local physical connection
    to other DTLA-approved devices. (The new DTLA rule
    about IP provides a new alternative the local
    physical connection — it can now be an IP network
    with up to 3 intermediate routers, as long as the
    sink device at the other end is still DTLA-approved.)

    At ARDG last week, this line of reasoning was very
    much in evidence. The theory is that you can use
    a combination of laws and technology to allow
    relatively unrestricted copying between devices
    connected to one another by cables (“at home”)
    while strictly prohibiting those devices to publish
    things “to the public” over a network.

    The Internet may have destroyed distance, but a lot
    of engineers are now fervently attempting to re-invent
    it!

  4. FCC to Regulate Whole Internet?

    I wrote about this earlier today (FCC to Regulate Routers – Critics of Broadcast Flag Get Mainstream Press) but it bears emphasis and should be very worrisome if true, as Ed Felten notes on Freedom to Tinker (Broadcast Flag Confusion)….

  5. FCC Comments on Regulating Internet Explained

    As noted yesterday (FCC to Regulate Whole Internet?), there was an extremely disturbing quote from an FCC official in the New York Times: An F.C.C. official said, for instance, that the broadcast flag could contain software code that was recognized…