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Laying down the law


FCC Chairman William Kennard plans to use the big stick of government rules to settle the seemingly never-ending dispute currently keeping digital television broadcasters from reaching cable subscribers and consumers from purchasing sets.

Kennard plans to bring rules to a vote at the commission's Sept. 14 meeting, and staffers in the FCC plans-and-policy office are working to prepare their recommendations in late August. Kennard aims to tackle two issues. First, he wants labeling standards for differentiating between standard DTV sets and ones that allow viewers to use interactive services.

Also, he aims to remove one of the major obstacles to consumer demand for DTV-the dearth of high-definition movies-by selecting a copy protection standard that will give Hollywood some assurance that viewers won't cut into profits by making multiple copies of movies. Broadcasters have been begging Kennard to set tough rules, charging that without government standards for cable-ready sets the DTV transition is hopelessly stalled.

Cable and equipment makers in May triumphantly announced they had reached a deal on labeling, but set manufacturers quickly backed away from the agreement. Efforts to reach an industry deal on copying has been even more difficult because Hollywood wants strict limits on the number of times a program can be copied and replayed.