Powell Offers Voluntary DTV Plan


In a surprise move, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell
unveiled a plan Thursday that he hopes will jump-start the digital-television

The plan, contained in a letter to Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), included
several proposals affecting the cable industry. However, Powell said his plan
was 'voluntary' and would not prejudge the outcome of pending digital-TV

The plan is likely to please television-station owners, which have urged the
FCC to put pressure on the cable industry and equipment makers to assist in the
digital transition.

In a prepared statement, the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association neither endorsed nor opposed Powell's plan.

'Chairman Powell has put forward some thought-provoking proposals, several of
which the cable industry is already actively working to accomplish. Other of
chairman Powell's proposals warrant further study. We look forward to discussing
these proposals with chairman Powell,' NCTA president Robert Sachs said.

In his letter to Hollings, Powell said his plan did not address digital
copy-protection or compatibility issues between digital-cable systems and
digital-ready TV sets.

Under Powell's plan:

\u0007 The four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox), as well as Home Box Office
and Showtime, would provide during the 2002-03 season high-definition
programming or other 'value-added DTV programming' during at least 50 percent of
their primetime schedule.

\u0007 By Jan. 1, 2003, the affiliates of the major networks in the top 100
markets would have to install the equipment to pass through HDTV programming if
that is what the networks provide.

\u0007 By Jan. 1, 2003, cable systems with 750 megahertz of capacity would offer
to carry free-of-charge the HDTV signals of the top five TV stations or other
digital programming services that offer HDTV during at least 50 percent of
primetime. Cable might have to provide subscribers the option of leasing or
buying a single set-top that can display HDTV programming.

\u0007 By Jan. 1, 2003, the direct-broadcast satellite industry would have to
carry five digital programming services that offer HDTV during at least 50
percent of primetime.

The plan also calls on equipment manufacturers to build cable boxes that are
HDTV-capable and to 'market broadcast, cable and satellite DTV options at the
point of sale.'

Moreover, Powell's plan would phase in the installation of off-air digital-TV
tuners in new TV sets under the following schedule:

\u0007 By Jan. 1, 2004, 50 percent of sets 36 inches and larger would have to have
digital-TV tuners.

\u0007 By Jan. 1, 2005, all such sets would need tuners.

\u0007 The phase-in continues until Dec. 31, 2006, when all new sets 13 inches and
larger would need digital-TV tuners.