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FCC OKs set-top content protection

Anti-copying technology will reassure film industry

WASHINGTON — In a move that will prove reassuring to the movie industry, the FCC approved Thursday an anti-copying mechanism for set-top boxes to protect content as digital TV grows in popularity.

FCC order gives cable companies the right to require that electronics manufacturers make the Point of Deployment (pod) mechanism — a part of set-top boxes capturing digital signals.

A Motion Picture Assn. of America spokesman said the FCC action is a major break in negotiations between the cable industry and electronic consumer industries. “It protects our content,” the spokesman said.

Put simply, the pod will provide a fire wall that prohibits users of set-top boxes from copying certain programs, for example.

What’s ultimately copy protected and not copy protected — or to what extent — still has to be worked out, with the FCC saying such issues are not under its purview. What the FCC has done is approve the fire wall technology.

Digital labels

In a related matter, FCC commissioners adopted rules for the consumer labeling of digital TV receivers.

The three labels are:

  • Digital Cable Ready 1 — A TV so labeled can receive analog basic, digital basic and digital premium service. A pod is required to view encrypted programming.

  • Digital Cable Ready 2 — In addition to the former, such a set contains a digital interface connector that can support interactive services.

  • Digital Cable Ready 3 — In addition to the former, this set can receive advanced and interactive services through a direct cable system.

The FCC said additional industry work was still required for design specifications, hence it will keep the record open before ruling upon precise specifications.

National Assoc. of Broadcasters prexy-CEO Edward O. Fritts said the FCC’s action was regrettable because it regulates a service still “in the embryo.”

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