FCC Treads Water, Makes Ruling on Digital TV

While declining to issue a definitive ruling on the future of digital television that some observers expected, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday resolved one issue and ordered the interested parties to resume negotiations and return with a final proposal within 30 days on another.

Some expected that the FCC would hand down a final ruling on issues related to the copy protection of programs broadcast over digital cable. Also expected was a ruling on the labelling of digital cable-ready televisions and the opening of the cable set-top box market to full competition, two topics closely tied into copy protection (see Digital TV Standard Could Imperil Home Recording, Aug. 31).

Though the FCC did rule that some degree of "reasonable" copy protection would be included in the digital cable standard proposed by industry trade group Cable Labs Inc., the commission pursued the strategy it has used for some time on this issue and charged the interested parties with negotiating their own settlement. Such a settlement must be submitted for FCC approval within 30 days.

Battle lines were drawn earlier this year when the Home Recording Rights Coalition and the Consumer Electronics Association charged Cable Labs and the Motion Picture Association of America with trying to prohibit all future home recording of digital television programs.

While saying that it would have preferred a "market-driven solution" the FCC ruled Thursday on the issue of the labelling of digital cable-ready television sets. The commission created three categories for such television sets:

-Digital Cable Ready 1, which would not include an IEEE-1394, or FireWire connector, which the proposed standard requires for some security measures -- such as copy control -- but would require security cards in set-top boxes used with these TVs;-Digital Cable Ready 2, which would have all the features of the first, but would include FireWire;-Digital Cable Ready 3, an as-yet-undefined specification which leaves the door open for future industry developments.

The ruling, while including all current television sets, is bound to leave some unhappy, as the first standard will not be able to access all the features which will be available to the other two, due to its less secure, non-FireWire-equipped status. However, had FireWire been required for compliance with the digital cable specification, all current television sets would have to be replaced, as FireWire is not yet a standard component. With this ruling, most televisions will be able to access at least some digital cable services.

The Federal Communications Commission, in Washington, D.C., can be reached at +1-202-418-0190 or http://www.fcc.gov.

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More about Cable LabsConsumer ElectronicsConsumer Electronics AssociationFCCFederal Communications CommissionHome Recording Rights CoalitionIEEEMotion Picture Association of America

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