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Digital cable agreement criticized by b’casters

MPAA fears illegal copies

WASHINGTON — TV manufacturers reached an agreement Wednesday that they say will allow consumers finally to hook up their expensive digital television sets for cable service.

But broadcasters were quick to criticize the deal, which they said was nothing more than an attempt to avoid government intervention in a dispute between several industries that has delayed the rollout of digital TV. “This is a sham,” National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said.

The NAB would like the FCC to enter the fray and force the cable industry to create a more broadcaster-friendly standard.

There are still several outstanding issues that need to be resolved as well. The cable industry and TV makers are still negotiating with the Motion Picture Assn. of America and others over copyright rules that will assure content owners that their intellectual property will not be easily copied. FCC chairman Bill Kennard declared victory after the cable industry and the TV makers made their announcement. “Today’s announcement … will jumpstart the digital revolution for television,” he said. Kennard has been pressuring cable and set-makers to reach an agreement and promised to intervene if a deal wasn’t worked out by April 1.

Agreement is not expected to affect the marketplace for at least 18 months: That’s when the first digital set with a cable input will hit the market. Until now, consumers have been paying as much as $5,000 for digital sets that could receive only over-the-air or satellite-delivered programming. The sets can also be hooked up to DVDs or video recorders.

In addition to the troubles between the cable and set-makers over hardware standards, there is also an ongoing controversy in the broadcasting industry over the transmission standard that was chosen for digital TV. The current standard, known as 8VSB, is the product of 10 years of research and industry negotiation. But some TV stations groups are not happy with the early results and are pushing to scrap 8VSB in favor of the European digital standard known as COFDM.

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