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Plug-and-play digital TV sets - for one-way, only

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Saying it is easing the digital television transition for consumers, the Federal Communications Commission last week adopted new rules for digital "plug and play" cable compatibility, which is a key piece of the digital television puzzle, it says.

In a "plug and play" world, consumers can plug their cable directly into their digital TV set without the need of a set-top box and receive all channels, including HDTV. The FCC said the new rules will ease the transition to digital TV by promoting competition, convenience and simplicity for consumers.

And, the trickle-down effect of moves such as this will spill over the border.

On December 19, 2002, the U.S. cable and consumer electronics industries filed with the FCC a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) containing both voluntary and inter-industry agreements and a package of regulatory proposals. Last week's "Second Report and Order" adopts the proposed technical, labeling and encoding rules with certain modifications.

The new rules will permit TV sets to be built with "plug and play" functionality for one-way digital cable services, which include typical cable programming services and premium channels like HBO and Showtime. Consumers will have to obtain a security card (often called a "POD" or "cable card"), from their local cable operator, to be inserted into the TV set.

Consumers, however, will still need a set-top box to receive two-way services such as video on demand, impulse pay-per-view and cable operator-enhanced electronic programming guides.

The FCC noted that the cable and consumer electronics industries continue to work on the development of an agreement for two-way "plug and play" receivers that would eliminate the need for a set-top box to receive these advanced cable services. The FCC encouraged the cable and consumer electronics industries to consult with interested parties and affected industries as the two-way negotiations progress.

The cable and consumer electronics industries also filed a model license for the DFAST scrambling technology, which protects content from unauthorized use. Although the parties did not seek regulatory action on the license, it contemplates FCC review of certain issues in case of dispute. The FCC concluded that, given the importance of these products as a portal into consumers' homes for content in the digital age, further consideration of how changes and innovations should be approved is warranted. The Order initiates a "Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM)" to examine these issues, and adopts an interim policy by which CableLabs would make preliminary determinations regarding new outputs and/or associated content protection technologies, subject to FCC review.

The FCC also noted that it will address Digital Broadcast Copy Protection issues in the near future.

For more on this development, including fact sheets and more of the nuts and bolts, go to www.fcc.gov.
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