Sachs Lends Support to FCC's Ferree


National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs threw his support behind the Federal Communications Commission staff’s effort to plan for the end of the transition to digital television.

Sachs, who withheld endorsement of any details, praised FCC Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree for proposing ideas for when TV stations must return their analog spectrum, which has an estimated worth in the tens of billions of dollars.

"Ken Ferree and the Media Bureau deserve a lot of credit for thinking creatively on how we transition from analog to digital spectrum," Sachs told reporters at NCTA headquarters.

Ferree has come under assault from broadcasters, which see disastrous results lurking if his plan becomes law.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Broadcasters said Ferree's plan was abysmal because many TV stations could be left with no choice but to insist that cable operators transmit their digital signals in downcoverted analog format beginning in 2009. That, the NAB added, would not prompt consumers to buy digital-TV sets.

"Rather than being criticized or ridiculed by some trade associations, I think [Ferree and his staff] ought to be commended for taking risks, for thinking outside of the box and putting ideas out for others to consider," Sachs said.

The digital-TV transition is supposed to end when 85% of consumers have equipment to view digital-TV signals. If certain rules are put in place, Ferree's plan would end it Dec. 31, 2008, which the NAB considers very premature.

Ferree's plan has several parts, including some that would give incentives to cable to go all-digital and reclaim vast amounts of analog spectrum that can be deployed for HDTV, video-on-demand and high-speed data.

"That's certainly a benefit to the cable operator because it obviates the need for a massive upgrade of facilities," Sachs said.

Sachs declined to discuss details because key elements of the Ferree plan have changed.

Early drafts called on cable operators to carry digital-TV stations' multicast services. But such a proposal was not presented to reporters who met with Ferree Wednesday.

"That's the one part I am not sure I'm ready to say anything about in terms of what we are going to propose," Ferree said.