Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell avoided taking
sides Wednesday in the debate over cable carriage of the high-definition-TV feed
of Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast by ABC.
Powell was asked to comment on the National Association of Broadcasters'
claim that cable operators largely decided to "block" cable carriage of the
National Football League championship game in HDTV.
"The way you described it to me I think is unfortunate," Powell told
reporters at FCC headquarters, noting he was unaware of all the details.
"I think the only thing that is going to work is to make sure everybody stays
in the playpen and makes DTV work for consumers, which are the only people that
ultimately matter," he added.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association explained that many
ABC independent affiliates were not carried in HDTV because they had demanded
cash for access to the feed.
The NCTA indicated that cable operators would have had to recover HDTV-rights
fees from subscribers, contrary to the wishes of the FCC.
Last April, Powell urged the cable, broadcasting, direct-broadcast satellite
and consumer-electronics industries to commit to various goals to promote HDTV
and the digital transition generally.
"The important point about public policy here is that they all have to come
together," Powell said.
NAB and NCTA members held a private meeting in New York late last year to
search for a compromise. But the NAB-NCTA clash over HDTV carriage suggested
that goodwill was not in abundant supply.
"I don't know the specifics of what did and didn't happen," Powell said. "I
think it would be a hazardous thing to suggest that any one incident along this
tortured path of the DTV transition is compelling or indicative of an entire set