Newport, R.I.— Claiming that cable systems are incompatible with digital television sets, a top Federal Communications Commission official on Tuesday pledged his support for regulatory intervention if industry turmoil looks unlikely to subside.
FCC Cable Services Bureau chief W. Kenneth Ferree said consumers can't buy cable-compatible DTV sets on a plug-and-play basis, and that 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 at the New England Cable Television Association convention.
Ferree said he went to a Best Buy outlet to purchase a DTV set, but a salesman talked him out of it after insisting the unit wouldn't work with cable.
"This is my own frustration with it," Ferree said. "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-DTV compatibility debate has largely been within the purview of the FCC's Office of Plans and Policy, he said.
"The next step would be to talk to the chairman about this and make sure it's okay with him," Ferree said.
Susan Eid, Powell's top mass media and cable adviser, said compatibility issues are on the front burner.
"This is a significant consumer issue and the chairman is focused on it," Eid said.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said it reached a deal last year with the consumer-electronics industry on digital cable-DTV set compatibility that would provide for the retail sale of cable-compatible DTV sets in the fourth quarter of this year.
A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association also confirmed the agreement with the NCTA, as well as the fall 2001 target for retail availability of cable-compatible DTV sets both with and without the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' IEEE 1394 interface.