NCTA Backs DTV Accord


Despite criticism from a number of players, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association continues to support unchanged the agreement designed to bring cable-compatible digital TV sets to the market, perhaps later this year.

The agreement reached in December between cable MSOs and the consumer-electronics industry has come under fire from broadcasters, Starz Encore Group LLC and even small cable operators.

But the NCTA said many of the complaints reflected a misunderstanding of the agreement or faulty legal and policy analysis.

The MSO-CE deal — which the parties want the Federal Communications Commission to codify as federal rules — is designed to allow the reception of one-way digital-cable service without a set-top box.

The National Association of Broadcasters has asked that the agreement guarantee that any digital cable-ready TV sets include tuners to capture off-air DTV signals. The NCTA said that although the deal does not contain "an express requirement" for inclusion of tuners, it does not stop CE firms from building them into sets.

Starz Encore complained that the agreement threatens its subscription-video-on-demand plans because SVOD programming is subject to a "copy-never" requirement when, in the programmer's view, a "copy-once" regime should apply.

The NCTA said the agreement does not prevent Starz Encore from reaching copy-once deals with content suppliers.

"Starz and the studio may negotiate any appropriate terms, from copy freely to copy never. There is nothing in the proposed rules that interferes with such negotiation," the trade group said.

The small-operator American Cable Association expressed concern that the agreement would impose cost burdens on its members.

The NCTA said FCC rules already contain waivers for small operators having financial problems, and copy-protection mandates on high-definition set-tops taking effect in July 2005 would apply to new boxes, which means there would be no expensive retrofitting of boxes in the field.