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Germans sewing up digital TV plans

Media authorities will soon decide who will operate the crucial gatekeeping services to as many as 150 channels in the metropolitan Berlin area.

That’s the next step toward launching Germany’s first commercial venture in digital broadcasting next year. Whenever it comes, the digital world will provide one alternative to foreign broadcasters, like CNN and the BBC, which recently lost distribution in the over-crowded analog network.

The MABB regulatory agency announced last week that by next spring, Berlin’s 1.1 million cable households should be ready to receive digital programs.

Cable operator Deutsche Telekom is ready to make the new capacity available, as soon as would-be customers obtain set-top boxes and regulators settle on a service provider, or “gatekeeper,” to manage subscriber and conditional access issues.

Set-top boxes are on their way. At the end of August, the Kirch Group ordered 1 million of its recently unveiled “D-Boxes” from Finnish manufacturer Nokia and expects they will be available to consumers by next spring for somewhere between $800 to $1000 per unit.

The MABB asked candidates to submit applications by Nov. 2, saying it next expects “a uniform technical standard for the set-top box.”

That was a clear call to the market’s rival factions to compromise and join forces with one another.

Kirch has dueled a consortium that includes Bertelsmann, Canal Plus, CLT and broadcasters ARD, ZDF and RTL – but few analysts predict a successful launch until one technology is endorsed.

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