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NEW ORLEANS — Cablers AT&T and Insight announced Monday that they have cut separate deals to carry more high-definition programming in large chunks of the Midwest, including the Windy City.

News came as the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. officially opened its annual confab in New Orleans. Show organizers are intent on using the gathering to highlight the industry’s willingness to help make the digital TV transition a reality so that Washington will back off from retaliatory action such as rate freezes.

Exhib floor is a bonanza of digital gadgets, sandwiched by booths rented out by the big cable nets. There was heavy traffic Monday, at least in part due to a new confab configuration that intentionally reroutes the crowd straight onto the floor.

At an afternoon press conference, Insight prexy-CEO Michael Willner said that his cable system reached an agreement with the Assn. of Public Television Stations to carry — at no charge — up to 31 public TV stations in the markets it serves. Those include Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky., as well as other second-tier markets in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

“Public television provides an essential service to the American public and, as local stations prepare themselves for the transition to digital, we wanted to ensure that our customers receive the full complement of their expanded offerings,” Willner said.

PBS prexy-CEO Pat Mitchell said the agreement was negotiated by a joint committee of the PBS and APTS boards. She said it’s critical that public TV stations be aided in making the digital leap.

AT&T announced that beginning this summer, it will begin offering high-def feeds of Fox, HBO, NBC and Showtime to digital customers in certain parts of the greater Chicago market, also at no charge to the nets.

Customers who already subscribe to the two movie nets will get the additional feed at no cost. For $10.95 a month, AT&T will provide a special high-def decoder and the necessary digital set-top box.

Cablers and broadcasters are coming under increasing pressure to stop their bickering and get on with the stalled digital TV transition. Broadcasters say TV stations need cable systems to carry all digital channels; cablers say that’s an unfair burden. Enter FCC chair Michael Powell, who in April called on all sides to take their share of pain. Powell is skedded to speak on the issue this morning at NCTA’s show.

Last week, NCTA chair-CEO Robert Sachs agreed to meet Powell’s request that the country’s top 10 cable operators — AT&T and Insight among them — begin carrying up to five commercial digital signals at no charge to the various nets beginning Jan. 1.