DTV wars still waging


If Secretary of State Colin Powell one day brokers peace in the Middle East,
perhaps his son can glean advice for winning interindustry cooperation in the
digital-television transition.

Despite signing on to a digital-TV-transition plan Federal Communications Commission
chairman Michael Powell floated in April, the broadcast and cable industries
can't stop launching salvos at each other.

Thursday, the National Association of Broadcasters informed Powell that 83
percent of "Big Four" affiliates in the 100 largest markets plan to carry their
networks' high-definition programming.

This "overwhelming majority ... will do their part to make your plan a
success," NAB president Eddie Fritts wrote in
a letter to Powell.

But Fritts went on to take swipes at the cable industry for not carrying all
local digital stations during the digital-TV transition and at set manufacturers for
not formally committing to Powell's call to put digital-TV tuners in most sets.

After getting hold of Fritts' letter, National Cable & Telecommunications
Association president Robert Sachs sent off his own letter, reminding Powell
that forced carriage of all local broadcasters' digital signals is not part of
the FCC chief's plan.

"The Powell plan did not call for redundant carriage of every broadcaster's
analog and digital signals," Sachs said. "Cable operators remain committed to
carrying every broadcaster's primary digital signal as soon as broadcasters
return their analog spectrum to the federal government."

The voluntary Powell plan calls for the major broadcast networks, Home Box Office and
Showtime to provide one-half of their primetime lineup in high-definition TV or "value-added" DTV.
The broadcast affiliates are asked to pass through network HDTV beginning Jan.
1, while cable operators asked to carry five channels of digital programming.

Digital-TV tuners are requested in one-half of large sets by Jan. 1,