Powell Calls for DTV Info

With no shortage of finger-pointing among industries related to digital TV, FCC Chairman Michael Powell is on a search for information that could help spot the weak links and form policy for the remainder of the digital transition.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), Powell said he instructed the FCC Media Bureau to issue requests for information to clear the commission's picture of the transition, a bit more than a year after his "Powell Plan" of voluntary industry actions spurred some progress in areas such as HD over cable.

The issues under inquiry are:

* Availability of compelling digital programming. "It is time to determine how broadcasters are using the flexibility they were given," Powell wrote. "Are they using it to make intensive use of their valuable digital spectrum to provide a rich mix of digital programming to consumers? Or are they using it to do the minimum amount of programming possible-a single stream of standard-definition digital programming-and permitting much of their digital spectrum to lie fallow?"
* Digital cable carriage. Powell wants to know whether and where digital signals are being carried on cable systems and who some digital broadcasters are not being carried. Cable and broadcasts lobbyists have been sniping at one another over carriage and provision of HDTV, so this inquiry could affect that argument.
* Digital Tuner Capabilities. Transmission and reception technologies are improving. The question is, how much? And should the FCC get more involved in implementing the advances?
* Consumer awareness. How much is there, Powell asks, and what can be done to create more?

The letter was in response to inquiries from McCain on the transition's progress. Powell also noted the FCC's ongoing procedures (on copy protection, cable-TV plug-and-play compatibility and the cable carriage rules, for example). He did not state a timeline for the new inquiry.