Digital Plug-and-Play Deal Questioned


Small cable operators and at least one major programmer are objecting to
portions of the digital-television-interoperability agreement reached in
December between major cable operators and TV-set makers.

The American Cable Association, which represents small cable companies, is
arguing that the agreement would require the purchase of new set-tops that could
be beyond the means of small MSOs.

Starz Encore Group LLC, the premium-programming service, is claiming that the
agreement would interfere with its subscription-video-on-demand business by
permitting "program suppliers and studios" to bar any program copying.

Both the ACA and Starz Encore expressed their views in comments filed March
28 at the Federal Communications Commission, which is considering rules that
would mirror the industry agreement.

The agreement -- considered a key step in the digital-TV transition -- is
intended to allow consumers to buy digital-TV sets and connect them to
digital-cable systems without needing set-top boxes to receive one-way

The ACA said cable systems with capacity of less than 750 megahertz should be
exempt from FCC rules.

Starz Encore said an SVOD-copying prohibition violated the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act and traditional fair-use guarantees.