HDTV Panel Frets Over FCC Delay


Chicago -- The cable industry is honing the consumer retail picture as HDTV
adoption takes off, but a potential delay in a crucial Federal Communications
Commission decision could ground cable-ready TV sets for the 2004 holiday
shopping season.

This was part of the discussion at a Tuesday-morning breakfast panel on the
evolution of HD, hosted by Multichannel News and TWICE

Much of the conversation centered on selling and educating the consumer about
HD and what it offers.

But the panel also took a side trip into the related issue of the
plug-and-play agreement forged between the cable and consumer-electronics
industries to pave the way for one-way, noninteractive, integrated TV sets
becoming available at retail. That includes high-end HDTV sets with built-in
conditional-access slots through which cable operators could deliver HD

The problem is that the agreement was announced in December with the idea
that the FCC would approve it by June. Word is that there might be a snag in
that plan.

"We've heard rumors that they may delay the decision to late summer," said
Bob Perry, vice president of marketing for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics
America Inc. and chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association's video
division. "If we have no approval by late this summer, there will be no products
for June of next year."

Noting that electronics manufacturers usually roll out their new product
lines by that time, Perry said the delay could mean few plug-and-play products
for the crucial fall holiday shopping season.

The delay, in turn, could affect efforts to hammer out a planned follow-up
agreement covering interactive devices able to deliver video-on-demand and other
advanced services, which is of more interest to cablers including Dave Watson,
Comcast Corp.'s executive VP of sales, marketing and customer service.

"The sooner we can get to the two-way agreement, the better," said Watson,
whose company doesn't want to see many consumers unable to tap on-demand
services. "We'll be much better off when that happens."

That may not be possible, given the fact that the two-way agreement will be
largely based on the planks set by the one-way pact, Perry said.

"There is a clouding effect," he added. "If we can't move the FCC forward to
adopt the one-way standard, we don't know what foundation we are building