A House bill introduced last Wednesday would give the Federal Communications Commission 30 days to adopt the digital plug-and-play agreement signed by eight leading cable companies and 14 top consumer-electronics firms last December.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Rich Boucher (D-Va.), would change the cable-CE agreement by including a requirement that all TV sets labeled "digital cable-ready" contain tuners for off-air digital broadcast signals.
While applauded by cable and consumer electronics representatives, the legislation is largely symbolic because the FCC is expected to approve the cable-CE agreement in the fall — well before the Terry-Boucher bill would have a chance of becoming law.
Another provision of the bill would require the FCC to adopt within 90 days rules that would require DTV stations to meet minimum power levels to ensure their signals can reach the bulk of homes in their markets.
Two weeks ago, FCC Media Bureau Chief Kenneth Ferree told reporters he didn't know where some people got the idea that the FCC would complete its review of the MSO-CE deal by June. Ferree said the FCC needed more time, because companies that were not parties to the agreement had raised concerns that needed to be evaluated by FCC staff. Broadcasters, for example, complained about the potential exclusion of off-air tuners in digital-cable ready sets.
Under the MSO-CE agreement, consumers should be able to buy DTV sets for one-way cable programming services, including premium networks, without leasing a set-top box from the cable company.
Cable and CE firms are negotiating standards for DTV sets with two-way interactive service capabilities. Robert McIntyre, chief technology officer with set-top maker Scientific-Atlanta Inc., told a reporter two weeks ago that the two-way agreement could take another 18 months to two years to negotiate.
Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro endorsed the Terry-Boucher bill, saying in a letter to Terry that its enactment would "remove the final obstacle to the ubiquitous deployment of DTV."
National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs sent Terry a letter last Wednesday thanking him for the support.
"Your leadership on this issue adds further momentum to ultimate implementation of the "plug-and-play" agreement," Sachs wrote in part.