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NAB closes in on DTV carriage plan

The National Association of Broadcasters would stop pushing for dual cable carriage of broadcasters' analog and digital signals during the digital transition, if the government mandates that cable operators carry all broadcasters' digital services to all their subscribers, sources say.That's one part of a proposal the NAB board of directors is expected to consider during a conference call this week. NAB officials declined to comment. The new plan would put the burden on the cable operators to ensure that all subscribers receive a broadcaster's digital signal, regardless of what the signal contains. It could contain a mix of several HDTV and standard-definition TV services. In practice, it would mean cable would be responsible either for outfitting every cable home with a digital set-top box or for carrying digital services on analog tiers.

Cable operators are sure to oppose the NAB plan. Outfitting every home with a digital set-top is expensive; carrying digital services on analog tiers absorbs too much cable capacity.

Besides ensuring that cable operators pass through broadcasters' entire digital signal, the NAB also wants the government to require that all cable set-top boxes be equipped to receive digital TV signals and that all DTV sets are cable-compatible. Right now, most consumers cannot buy a digital TV set, take it home, plug it into a cable set-top box, and receive local digital TV signals over cable.

Finally, the NAB wants all new TV sets to be equipped with DTV tuners. Although it has asked Congress to write a law that would require set manufacturers to include a DTV tuner in every new set, the association also is willing to work with manufacturers to craft a solution.

In return, NAB would back away from its request for dual cable carriage during the transition and would consider a hard deadline for the return of analog spectrum, perhaps 2009.