Those 2-way plug & play talks continue; cable and CE manufacturers have held more than 30 face-to-face meetings since the 1-way agreement was signed in ’02, an NCTA FCC filing says. The discussions are the framework for allowing CE makers to build digital-ready TV sets capable of VOD and other interactive services. One-way digital-ready TVs, which aren’t capable of interactive functions, are already on the market. As the 2-way discussions heat up, NCTA is making sure it holds larger meetings with all potentially affected parties (the movie studios and DBS guys raised a stink at the FCC when they weren’t included in the 1st plug & play deal). These larger meetings have consisted of 80- 100+ attendees and were held in DC (3 meetings), Chicago and L.A. The 1st included 12 CE makers, CEA, 7 studios, MPAA, 4 group owners of programming, 6 "prominent" IT/PC companies, DirecTV, EchoStar, NAB and MSTV. "The size and scope of these meetings, and the presence of cross-industry competitors when issues touch on proprietary matters, necessarily influence the speed with which issues can be resolved," NCTA said. That doesn’t sound especially promising for a speedy resolution… CableCARDs: The NCTA’s plug & play update was part of a larger FCC filing that argued against requiring cable operators to deploy only CableCARD-enabled set-tops after July 1, ’06. The FCC rule is aimed at encouraging set-top availability at retail. CableCARD-enabled set-tops would allow consumers to purchase a set-top from the manufacturer of their choice. The Commission has said it would reassess the rule by Jan 1, ’05, a timeline that worries NCTA. The trade group says it takes 18 months for ops to have boxes ordered and delivered, which would make it hard to meet a July 1, ’06 deadline. NCTA wants the deadline dropped altogether, arguing that the availability of plug & play devices and CableCARD products makes it unnecessary. It also said a ban would stymie the goal of creating a $35-$50 digital set-top because of the expense of CableCARDs.

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