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Powell Stresses DTV Plan Is Voluntary

4/09/2002 6:22 AM Eastern

Las Vegas -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell said
Tuesday that industry adoption of his new digital-television-transition plan was
voluntary and no one had to fear the FCC for not going along.

'You can write what you want to write, but I think the commission is
comfortably consistent in that the plan is voluntary. It is an effort to bring
parties together around a solution,' Powell told reporters after addressing the
National Association of Broadcasters' NAB 2002 here in an interview with ABC
News journalist Sam Donaldson.

Powell said there was no FCC 'stick' awaiting industries that fail to show
sufficient enthusiasm for his plan.

'The question about whether there is any further government action lurking in
the wings is just not before us, not something we are pursuing,' he added.

FCC Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree pointedly reminded the cable industry
Friday that it would sour relations with agency officials if the industry did
not embrace the Powell plan.

'That probably should be their assumption,' Ferree told reporters. 'They
should think that. I don't think they do themselves any favor at the commission
by not being proactive players in the digital transition.'

Two days later, Ferree met briefly with reporters here to clarify that he was
not saying the outcome of the AT&T Broadband-Comcast Corp. merger or various
pending cable rulemakings would depend on cable's reaction to the digital-TV
plan.

'There is no reason to suggest that would affect any one particular
proceeding, just that it is not good for their relationship in general with the
FCC if they are not playing ball,' Ferree said.

Powell came to Ferree's defense, saying that the media did not accurately
present Ferree's first set of comments.

'I've talked to Ken at length, and I think he is misinterpreted in that
suggestion,' Powell added.

By Jan. 1, 2003, the Powell plan would require cable operators with 750
megahertz of channel capacity -- about two-thirds of all systems, according to
FCC data -- to offer to carry at no cost up to five high-definition TV signals,
either broadcast or cable.

The National Cable & Telecommunication Association released a statement
Friday that neither endorsed nor rejected the Powell plan.

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