Ferree: Review Digital-TV Compatibility


Newport, R.I. -- Claiming that cable systems are incompatible with
digital-television sets, a top Federal Communications Commission official
pledged support Tuesday for regulatory intervention if industry turmoil appears
to continue.

W. Kenneth Ferree, chief of the Cable Services Bureau, said consumers can't
buy cable-compatible digital-TV sets on a plug-and-play basis and the lack of
industry cooperation is hurting the transition to digital television.

'The Cable Bureau is going to get back into this. If the industries can't
come up with standards and rules, we are going to have to come up with standards
and rules,' Ferree said after speaking to the New England Cable Television
Association convention here.

Ferree said he went to a Best Buy Co. Inc. outlet to purchase a digital-TV
set, but the salesman talked him out of it after insisting that the unit
wouldn't work with cable.

'This is my own frustration with it,' he added. 'I can understand consumer
frustration with this, and something has to be done on this.'

Ferree said he needed to secure permission from FCC chairman Michael Powell
to allow his bureau to tackle the issues. So far, the cable/digital-TV
compatibility debate has largely been within the purview of the FCC's Office of
Plans and Policy, he added.

'The next step would be to talk to the chairman about this and make sure it's
OK with him,' Ferree said.

Susan Eid, Powell's top mass-media and cable adviser, said compatibility
issues were on the front burner. 'This is a significant consumer issue and the
chairman is focused on it,' she added.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said it reached a
deal last year with the consumer-electronics industry on
digital-cable/digital-TV-set compatibility that would provide for the retail
sale of cable-compatible digital-TV sets in the fourth quarter of this year.

A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association also confirmed the
agreement with the NCTA and the fall-2001 target for retail availability of
cable-compatible digital-TV sets both with and without the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers' '1394' interface.