Digital plug-and-play rules broad reach to be felt in many areas

The FCC’s newly adopted digital plug-and-play rules are far-reaching, addressing areas as diverse as transmission standards and consumer product labeling requirements.

Here are some of the key provisions.

Digital Cable System Transmission Standards and Support Requirements

  • Transmission standards: All digital cable systems must operate in conformity with specific technical standards. Waivers are available for small cable systems that would find the standards unduly burdensome.
  • POD Security Cards: All cable operators must maintain a sufficient supply.
  • High-definition set-top boxes: By April 1, 2004, cable operators must supply, upon request, high-definition set-top boxes with functional IEEE 1394 FireWire connectors. By July 1, 2005, all high-definition set-top boxes would also require a digital visual interface (DVI) or a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI).

Labeling and Consumer Disclosures

  • Labeling: Manufacturers labeling DTV receivers as “Digital Cable Ready” must meet certain technical standards, complete a testing and verification process and equip their receivers with a DVI or HDMI interface using high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) technology.
  • Broadcast Tuner: DTV televisions labeled “Digital Cable Ready” must include an over-the-air DTV tuner.
  • Consumer Disclosures: Manufacturers must include post-sales material, such as an owner’s guide, language informing consumers about the functionality of the device and the need to obtain a security card from their cable operator.

Limits on Copy Protection Mechanisms

  • Selectable Output Control: The current use of selectable output controls by all multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) is prohibited.
  • Down-resolution: MVPDs may not reduce the resolution of broadcast programming from HD to SD –so-called down-resolution. Down-resolution of non-broadcast programming will be addressed in the Further Notice.
  • Caps on Copy Protection Encoding: The encoding rules, which are applicable to all MVPDs, are modeled generally upon the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  • Application of the rules does not extend to distribution of any content over the Internet or an MVPD's services offered via cable modem or DSL.

DFAST License

  • FCC Oversight: The memorandum of understanding included a model agreement for the use of patented scrambling technology for the POD-Host Interface. While no regulatory action was requested on the license, it does contemplate FCC appellate oversight in cases of dispute over compliance and robustness rules.
  • Approval of New Connectors and Content Protection Technologies: The DFAST license anticipates FCC appellate oversight in cases of dispute over CableLabs’ determinations regarding the use of new connectors and content protection technologies.

Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

  • Potential processes for approving new digital output and content protection technologies.
  • Potential requirement of pre-sale consumer disclosures.
  • Potential use of down-resolution for non-broadcast programming.
  • Potential applicability of rules that apply to 750MHz cable systems to also apply to 550MHz systems.

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