Ferree: Plug-and-Play Order in Fall, Maybe

Consumer-electronics manufacturers have been unrealistic in their hope for a quick FCC decision on digital cable plug-and-play standards, Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree said.

Citing the enormous complexities of the issue, he stuck by an earlier guess that an order could come the fall. TV makers had pleaded for a decision by August, saying they needed quick direction to have the cable-ready sets in time for the 2004 holiday season. They also said they wanted their sets with integrated ATSC tuners—required in some sets starting July 1, 2004—to be digital cable-ready.

“That’s one of the most complex areas the FCC’s ever tried to weigh into,” Ferree told reporters. “We’ve been trying to move along as fast as we can. I understand some of the parties have had some unrealistic expectations that we were going to finish this thing in June somehow. I don’t know whatever gave them that idea.”

Just on the issue of copyright protection, the FCC faces a thorny jurisdictional issue, with warnings from Congress not to step on its authority. The movie studios meanwhile are demanding tough protections and the satellite TV providers object to the attempt by the consumer-electronics and cable industries to impose their set of plug-and-play standards on the satellite industry.

Ferree said the Media Bureau would try to get an order to the commissioners “within the next couple of months” and that they understood the urgency.

He wasn’t swayed by the TV-makers alarm about missing another manufacturing cycle.

“If we miss a manufacturing cycle, we miss a manufacturing cycle. We aren’t driven by that,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here that we need to reconcile and deal with.”