Fire-Wire Flap Far from Finished

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Political maneuvering around a length of wire continued
last week, as two broadcast-industry groups dashed off a letter to Federal Communications
Commission chairman William Kennard, voicing concerns about what is known as "fire
wire."

The National Association of Broadcasters and the
Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV)requested that Kennard himself
chair an interindustry group to prod various factions within the consumer-electronics
industry into proceeding with fire-wire implementations. Fire wire is also known as the
IEEE 1394 specification.

In August, Kennard wrote a letter to the Consumer
Electronics Manufacturers Association and the NAB, warning them that they had until
November to find a way to get fire wire to work. Fire wire is an essential ingredient in
how digital signals move between TV sets and consumer devices, like VCRs.

Two weeks ago, the National Cable Television Association
wrote Kennard that a "baseline" specification for fire wire had been reached.

The NAB's letter last week was the politically correct
equivalent of, "I doubt it."

The letter -- co-written by NAB president and CEO Edward
Fritts and MSTV president Margita White -- stated that the NCTA and the CEMA fire-wire
standards "have not been voted for approval," and that their combined goal
"is by no means assured."

Besides, the NAB and MSTV argued, a baseline standard
"is not enough" to guarantee that set makers and set-top-box makers will build
the digital connection into their equipment.

The NAB and MSTV were describing a common chicken-and-egg
scenario between service providers and equipment manufacturers.

Fire wire is, in part, a plug that has to be built into
consumer devices. That plug has to be able to recognize and parse data that come into it.
If the CEMA's backers included a plug that didn't recognize cable-delivered
digital signals, or if cable providers endorsed a different high-speed interface flavor,
the end result would have been the same: pictures that did not display on digital-TV sets.

"Some manufacturers don't want to incur the
modest expense of implementation, some have other 'favorite' interfaces, and
some are concerned that a standard for digital copyright protection is needed before the
majority of manufacturers will incorporate any interface into equipment," Fritts and
White wrote.

The NAB and MSTV went on to request the formation of an
"interindustry group," chaired by Kennard or another FCC commissioner.

"Only with further prodding will the goals set out in
your letter of Aug. 13, 1998, be fully realized," Fritts and White said.

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