FCC to Press Industry on DTV Roles

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The cable and broadcasting industries will face stiffer questioning in
connection with their efforts to date in advancing the transition to digital
television, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell told Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a recent letter.

The letter -- dated April 29 but released May 1 by the FCC -- promised McCain
that commission staff will take several steps soon that will press cable
operators and broadcasters for answers on key digital-TV questions.

In the two-page letter, Powell said broadcasters would be asked whether they
are maximizing use of their digital spectrum or "permitting much of their
digital spectrum to lie fallow."

He added that cable operators would be quizzed on the status of their
carriage of off-air digital signals.

"We intend to determine whether and where digital-broadcast signals are being
carried by cable systems and why some digital broadcasts are not being carried,"
Powell wrote.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued that many
digital-TV stations are not providing high-definition programming and stations
providing HDTV are demanding cash from cable operators, contrary to provisions
in Powell's April 2002 digital-TV-transition plan.

The National Association of Broadcasters, meanwhile, has ascribed
anti-competitive motives to cable and urged the FCC to mandate digital-TV
carriage.

Powell said the agency would also monitor the quality of off-air digital-TV
tuners hitting the market and whether cable and broadcasters are taking the
steps he requested to build consumer awareness of digital TV.

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