FCC Adopts Plug & Play Rules for DTV Receivers

Last week, the FCC announced that it had adopted rules allowing new DTV sets to be built with circuitry that will allow them to connect directly to one-way digital cable services without the need for a set-top converter box. The FCC News Release said, "...the new rules will ease the transition to digital TV by promoting competition, convenience and simplicity for consumers."

The Second Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 03-255) sets specific transmission standards for digital cable systems, although small cable systems can obtain a waiver if the requirements are "unduly burdensome." It also requires that cable operators maintain a sufficient supply of the "POD Security Cards" used to allow access to premium cable services.

Of interest to broadcasters, the new rules require that DTV sets labeled "Digital Cable Ready" must include an over-the-air DTV tuner, and that down conversion of broadcast HDTV material to standard definition is prohibited. Starting April 1, 2004, cable operators will be required to supply, upon request, HDTV set-top boxes with functional IEEE-1394 "Firewire" connectors. HDTV set-top boxes will have to be equipped with a digital visual interface (DVI) or a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) by July 1, 2005.

The new rules put caps on copy-protection encoding, setting three copy protection standards: Copy Never, Copy Once, and No Restrictions on Copying. The first would be used for pay-per-view and video-on-demand programs. The second would apply to basic and extended basic cable service. Broadcast television would fall under the third encoding rule, no restrictions on copying.

Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro saw the FCC action as "major victory for consumers," saying, "History books will mark this as a momentous day in the U.S. transition to digital television. That sound you hear is the excited rumblings of millions of consumers preparing to join the HDTV era now that plug-and-play is a reality. Consumers now will be able to purchase a high-definition television set, just as they buy analog sets today. They will be able to take it home, plug it into the cable jack in their wall and turn it on to view glorious high-definition programming. This is what many consumers have been waiting for. It's what they want and what they deserve."

RF Report will have a link to the text of the Second Report and Order and more technical details on the new rules once they are released by the FCC and posted on the Internet.