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How Green Is Your Digital Set-Top?

Cable-industry lobbyists are trying — with some success so far — to keep digital set-tops out of new laws promoted by consumer-interest groups to curb energy consumption by electronic devices.

Among other arguments, cable-operator interests contend that energy curbs could limit the ability of digital set-tops to provide new services, including Internet access.

At the urging of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Interest Research Group chapters, bills have been introduced targeting devices they call "energy vampires." Energy usage is rising at a rate five times that of the population, the advocacy groups noted.

One way to counter that statistic is to lower consumption by certain electronic devices. Most of those on the hit list are commercial products, such as exit signs and traffic lights. In-home electronics — from washing machines, halogen lights and ceiling fans to digital set-tops — are a target, too.

New Power Regs

The bills would set state energy-consumption limits for those devices that are even lower than the federal Energy Star guidelines for standby energy conservation.

In Rhode Island, PIRG advocates testified the average digital converter uses 23 watts of electricity, even when it is not in use. The group would like the hardware reconfigured to use 15 watts or less.

Bills have also been in introduced in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Illinois and Maryland.

Cable groups have teamed up with the Consumer Electronics Association to fight the bills. They argue that only uniform federal standards can optimize efficiency benefits. They also say state programs threaten to undercut the Energy Star program, which helps manufacturers design products that consume less power.

Limiting the consumption of any one set-top could force manufacturers to place functions in other electronics that could actually lead to a net increase in power consumption, they argue. They'd prefer market-oriented incentives to promote conservation.

Victory in MD.

So far, they're having some success. When Maryland's legislature approved an energy-miser bill on April 4, digital set-tops were carved out of the list of targeted products.

Bills in Connecticut and Illinois have moved out of committee, also with pro-cable amendments, according to Bill Durand, chief counsel for the New England Cable Telecommunications Association.