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Public TV, cable industry ink digital deal

Key players agree on a deal that will make digital versions of public TV shows available on cable networks.

Groups representing public television and the cable industry on Monday announced an agreement making digital versions of shows on public TV stations available on cable systems.

The Association of Public Television Stations and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced a 10-year deal ensuring that digital programming from local public television stations will be available to the majority of the nation's cable subscribers. The move also encourages public television stations to create more high-definition content.

It took the groups 18 months to agree on the terms of the deal, and members have 60 days to ratify it. Once approved, the terms could take effect within six months.

Public TV stations have embraced the digital-television transition, something that has been promoted by the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to free up wireless spectrum for more efficient uses such as broadband Internet access.

"Cable operators recognize that public TV has been a leader in producing new and compelling digital television content," NCTA chief executive Robert Sachs said in a statement. "Through the agreement, the cable industry is ensuring that our customers will benefit from the quality and creative noncommercial PTV digital content that is available today, and will be offered in the future."

The NCTA is a trade group representing cable operators serving more than 90 percent of the cable households in the United States.

Digital signals are noted for offering sharper picture quality, but they can also offer more programming for the same amount of bandwidth that now carries only one channel.

"We now have a far greater opportunity in the digital world than we ever had in the analog world," APTS chief executive John Lawson said. "This materially advances the digital TV transition...and makes it more likely we can develop new digital services."

The agreement allows for the 356 public stations to have up to four channels on digital-cable systems.