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Brits level digital TV plane

LONDON – The British government Tuesday finally unveiled its regulations to ensure fair and open access for all broadcasters to the digital TV market.

Fierce lobbying by the BBC over the past fortnight has persuaded the government to make the final rules slightly tougher than the original draft proposals it published earlier this month.

But the new rules stop short of the BBC’s call for digital set-top box operators to be required to license their technology to any manufacturer or broadcaster who requests it.

Instead, the government has inserted new safeguards requiring that any set-top box operator must make all information about its technology freely available to all broadcasters at the earliest opportunity.

These conditions were designed to prevent Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns the U.K.’s only conditional access system, from giving its satcaster BSkyB an unfair head start over other companies planning to offer rival digital services.

But it still means that rival broadcasters will have to negotiate with Murdoch for the right to be transmitted via his digital box, if as expected it becomes the de facto standard for the British market.

Oftel, the telecom watchdog, has been given the responsibility to oversee these negotiations to ensure fair dealing. The next step is for Oftel to publish its detailed plans to wielding these powers.

BSkyB is expected to push ahead in the next few days with its plans to launch a digital service by ordering 1 million decoder boxes from a short list of manufacturers.

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