Cable, Manufacturers Reach Plug-and-Play Accord

In a long-awaited agreement the participants likened in scope to the work of digital TV's famed Grand Alliance, the cable and consumer electronics industries announced a deal to make off-the-shelf digital televisions compatible with most cable systems around the country.

The agreement is a major step to overcoming an obstacle to the DTV transition and comes after years of legislative, regulatory and political pushing.

It provides standards for cable operators to make all their systems over 750 MHz compatible with new digital TVs without the need for a set-top box. The agreement also tackles copyright protection - although some details remain unresolved - providing "rules of the road" designed to allow content owners to define the level of copy protection desired on a given program.

The industries filed the agreement with the FCC Thursday morning before a press conference at which the participants seemed almost giddy to have reached the milestone. Responding to suggestions that the plug-and-play was now in the FCC's court, one participant characterized the deal as handing the issue to the FCC "on a silver platter."

Insiders had been saying for weeks that an agreement was imminent. One person involved said the framework of the agreement was clear months ago, but that the sides had painstakingly articulated legal details, word by word, to give the FCC a nearly complete rule it could adopt.

"This shows what progress can be made when both sides are committed to finding solutions rather than jockeying for regulatory advantage," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. "We will act expeditiously on those requests after other interested parties have had the opportunity to comment."