Hill leaders float DTV plan


To boost the Federal Communications Commission's push to speed the
digital-television transition, key lawmakers Wednesday floated 'draft'
legislation aimed more at provoking debate than showing their final position on
a formal bill.

The lawmakers told broadcasters to forget about winning mandatory cable
carriage for both their analog- and digital-TV signals, but they did not indicate
whether they favor mandated carriage of digital multicasts, according to a draft
bill floated Wednesday evening.

The bill -- which tackles a broad range of issues stalling the transition to
digital TV -- was intended to provide a base of discussion for the panel's Sept.
25 hearing on digital TV, and it is expected to differ substantially from formal
legislation that committee leaders plan to introduce.

Wednesday's plan was drafted by staffs of panel chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.)
and ranking Democrat Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.

Tauzin and Dingell will propose cable-multicast obligations after hearing
testimony next week, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Mandated cable carriage of both broadcasters' analog and digital channels --
once the top priority of broadcasters -- would be forbidden.

The FCC is also grappling with the multicasting dilemma, and it is expected to
seek comment soon on requiring cable companies to carry any part of a
broadcaster's signal that is offered free over the air, including multicasts,
high-definition programming and electronic program guides.

Other measures included in the bill would:

\u0007 Require TV affiliates to pass through a network's entire digital signal
without degradation.

\u0007 Require all TV sets sold or manufactured in the United States after Jan. 1,
2006, to recognize a 'broadcast flag' preventing unauthorized duplicating and
distribution over the Internet. Manufacture of sets with analog outputs would be
prohibited after July 1, 2005.

\u0007 Require cable operators by July 1, 2005, to transmit signals compatible with
'plug-and-play' sets without the need for set-top converter boxes.

\u0007 Eliminate current FCC rules prohibiting cable systems from offering set-top
converter boxes containing integrated security devices.

\u0007 Uphold the FCC's timetable that eventually requires digital-TV tuners in all sets
13 inches and larger.

\u0007 Require labels that inform consumers when any set is not capable or
displaying digital content or when copy-protected content cannot be displayed
on all devices.

Nearly all of the provisions are controversial, but
lawmakers hope the draft will provide an adequate base for negotiations and
eventual compromise between the warring broadcast, cable, set-manufacturer,
computer and content industries.