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Powell on DTV in Washington Post (1 Viewer)

Roberto Carlo

Second Unit
Apr 14, 2002
FCC Chairman Michael Powell had this op-ed in today's Washington Post. This may seem like old hat to some, but in DC this is a sign that Powell is going to bat and investing his personal prestige to get DTV moving.


The Chicken, the Egg and the TV

By Michael Powell

Monday, May 13, 2002; Page A15

The digital revolution is about to change the way we watch television. Once completed, the conversion to digital will also make valuable spectrum available for new and innovative wireless services. That's the good news. The bad news is if we don't work together, the road ahead could be a long and difficult one for consumers.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the digital transition is the most significant development in television since the advent of color. With digital technology, television networks can provide new services such as high-definition TV, which delivers a picture so sharp and crisp that you feel you're there. Anyone who watched the Masters golf tournament, the basketball Final Four or the Winter Olympics in high definition knows what I'm talking about.

Or, instead of one super-sharp picture, a broadcaster can provide multiple programs over the same slice of spectrum. Some PBS stations, for instance, are using their digital channel to air different educational programs targeted to different age groups . . . all at the same time.

Digital also will make possible a host of new interactive services that the analog world can't accommodate. Play along with your favorite game show? Change camera angles on that instant replay? With digital, it can be a click away with your remote.

So why aren't more consumers rushing to their local electronics stores to invest in new digital equipment? While the prices for digital sets remain high (although they are beginning to come down significantly), I believe many consumers would take the plunge if they knew they could get easy access to increasing levels of digital content.

Broadcasters are reluctant to undertake the high cost of converting to digital when so few consumers own digital sets. Set manufacturers, conversely, see no urgency to build sets with digital tuners when there's no programming to watch. And cable operators see little reason to deploy the customer equipment necessary for the delivery of high-definition programming without the other pieces of the puzzle in place. It is the age-old chicken-and-egg dilemma.

The result is a standoff, each industry feeling justified in its inertia by the inertia of its brethren.

To break this impasse, I recently challenged the industries involved in the transition to take voluntary steps to move forward. The plan challenges the major networks to create more compelling digital content, equipment manufacturers to produce more television sets with digital tuners and broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers to make digital content more accessible to consumers.

The plan asks each of the industries to commit to meeting specific goals and timetables. This will not only help the industries focus on the task at hand but will reassure them that if they take concrete steps to speed the transition, they won't be alone. In short, the plan recognizes that the only way to resolve the debate over who goes first is for all the industries to link arms and take one step forward -- together.

Specifically, the plan:

• Asks ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, HBO and Showtime to provide high-definition or other value-added digital programming during at least 50 percent of their prime-time schedules, beginning this fall.

• Asks affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in the top 100 markets to deploy the equipment necessary to retransmit their network's high-definition or other digital feed by Jan. 1.

• Asks cable and satellite systems to offer to carry as many as five digital programmers at no cost.

• Asks large cable systems to offer consumers the option of leasing a set-top box that can display high-definition programming by Jan. 1 (currently such boxes are available in only limited markets).

• Asks consumer electronics manufacturers to include digital tuners in new sets, beginning with screens 36 inches and larger (50 percent to have tuners by Jan. 1, 2004) and including all sets 13 inches and larger by Dec. 31, 2006.

Admittedly, the plan is not a panacea. It does not address many important issues -- such as copy protection for digital video and the development of "plug and play" sets that can operate without a set-top box. This does not mean these issues are any less vital or that we will work on them any less assiduously. But they may take time to resolve and implement. In the meantime, much progress can be made.

I will be seeking tangible commitments from the industries involved in the coming weeks. Earlier this month the cable industry pledged its support for the plan, and I look forward to positive responses from the other industries as well. It is time to turn words into action. It is time to stop pointing fingers and get to work. It is time to stop the delays. Above all, it is time to deliver on the promise of digital television for the American people.

The writer is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

David Lambert

Senior HTF Member
Aug 3, 2001
A very interesting read. It reminds me that I have no clue what the situation is locally for digital TV. I think we have one broadcasting now (NBC affiliate), and couple planning something for "later", whatever that is.

I just called a local newspaper, The Memphis Flyer (not the "big" paper in town, which is the Commercial Appeal, but also more likely to take this suggestion) and proposed to them that they should look at the Powell piece in the Washington Post and then think about doing an article updating us on where Memphis stations stand on this issue.

Many here believe that this issue is tied to Widescreen (and therefore OAR) acceptance. I'm not so sure that this is true, but if so then it behoves us all to prompt our local communities to push in this direction.


Senior HTF Member
Jul 24, 2000
Thanks for the article. I hope the plan works, but to me the most important thing is that the copy-protection issues are worked out, so that I know my equipment will not be obsolete in just 2 or 3 years.

ANyone know which the top 100 markets are?

Larry Seno Jr.

Supporting Actor
Feb 28, 2002
New York

Los Angeles



San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose


Washington D.C./Hagerstown

Dallas/Fort Worth






Minneapolis/St. Paul

Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota

Miami/Ft. Lauderdale





St. Louis

Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne


Portland (Oregon)


There's your top 25.

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