Powell Provides Update on DTV Proposals

FCC Chairman Michael Powell this week updated the industry on proposals he made earlier this year for moving the DTV transition ahead.

Powell said in a statement that "virtually every industry - cable, broadcast and satellite" has either embraced or made real commitments to advance the transition, and that because of these commitments, "key elements of the digital television transition are beginning to fall in place."

In early April, Powell asked for certain commitments from the broadcast, satellite, cable and consumer electronics industries to speed up the DTV transition. Among his requests, which he hopes would be implemented by the beginning of 2003, were commitments from affiliates from each the top four broadcast networks in the top 100 markets to pass along digital programming such as HDTV, interactive TV or other "value-added programming." The chairman also asked that satellite and digital cable operators provide "up to" five advanced digital program services during 50 percent of their primetime schedule by next year and that consumer electronics manufacturers begin building digital tuners into television sets by 2004.

Since then, the cable industry's top 10 MSOs have expressed their willingness to go along with the proposals, and last week the DBS industry said it too would support Powell's plan.

The chairman also lauded cable networks HBO, Showtime, Discovery and HDTV network HDNet for their increased range of hi-def programming along with PBS. ABC and CBS are showing the majority of their primetime schedules in HD, and NBC said it would increase its HDTV programming from its current six hours of late night hi-def to a total of 14 hours in primetime and late night next season. Powell said he was "optimistic" that Fox will develop "value-added programming."

Powell said the "missing piece" of the DTV puzzle is the consumer electronics industry, which has not yet signed on to the plan. "I hope they will join their industry colleagues and come forward with real and tangible commitments to advance the transition."