Ferree To Cable: Adopt Plan Or Else

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Washington -- A top Federal Communications Commission official warned
Friday that the cable industry would jeopardize good relations with agency
officials if it failed to embrace chairman Michael Powell's digital TV
transition plan.

'That probably should be their assumption,' Ferree told reporters Friday, a day after Powell unveiled his four-year plan.

'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.'

The FCC is reviewing AT&T Broadband's proposed merger with Comcast Corp. and considering rulemakings on cable ownership, program access, and cable carriage of multiple Internet access providers.

Ferree acknowledged that cable's standing in those proceedings would be
harmed if it fell behind on Powell's plan.

But, he added, it was within cable's power to avoid hassles at the FCC.

Although the FCC billed the plan as 'purely voluntary,' Ferree made it clear
that FCC officials expect the various industries to adopt it without delay.

Under the plan, cable operators with 750 MHz of channel
capacity -- which include two-thirds of all systems -- are being asked to offer
to carry at no cost up to five 5 high-definition TV signals, either broadcast or cable.

The networks need to provide 50 percent of their prime time schedule in HDTV or provide some other advanced digital
service.

Cable also has to provide subscribers with the option of
buying or leasing a single set-top box with which to receive and view HDTV programming.

The devices must include digital connectors (perhaps 1394/5C and or DVI/HDCP) at the request of the
consumer.

Cable is also required to market the advanced programming on their systems and in monthly bills.

Ferree said cable operators had the choice of carrying broadcast networks or Home Box Office or Showtime in HDTV.

But he said the cable had to expose viewers to that high-resolution
service.

'I think the cable industry is not doing itself any favor by not carrying that kind of programming,' Ferree said.

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