FCC Hurls Down Gauntlet at America’s Dawdling dTV Sector

05 April 2002

In a bid to accelerate the take-up of digital TV in the US, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael K Powell has issued a series of targets he wants the various players in the industry to meet over the next few years.

Stateside rollout of dTV has been sluggish to date, despite Congress’s 1997 demand that most broadcasters switch to digital signals by 2006.

The sector has been racked by bickering between broadcasters – who claim not enough dTV-ready receivers are being produced – and TV manufacturers, who contend there is little demand because too few programs are broadcast digitally. Both sides have been given deadlines by Powell.

The FCC boss asked the big four networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox) plus HBO and Showtime to broadcast at least 50% of their prime-time lineup for this year’s fall season digitally. He also wants network affiliate stations in the hundred biggest cities to install digital broadcasting equipment by January 1 next year, with cable and satellite operators expected to carry some dTV programmes by the same date.

As for the manufacturing side, Powell has provided a series of deadlines over the next four years to boost the production of dTV-enabled receivers and digital set-top boxes.

The targets follow months of consultation by the FCC’s Digital Television Task Force with industry groups and lawmakers. However, the federal agency admitted that no specific punishments are currently threatened if the goals are not met.

Writing to Senator Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) and Representative W J Tauzin (Republican, Louisiana) – two of the leading lawmakers involved in media affairs – Powell conceded: “The plan is purely voluntary but, as you can see, contemplates that each relevant industry will play a significant role. I intend to seek commitments along these lines in the near future.”

Powell’s challenge was welcomed by ABC and CBS, though the National Cable and Telecommunications Association was more guarded: “Chairman Powell has put forward some thought-provoking proposals, several of which the cable industry is already actively working to accomplish,” it stated. “Other of chairman Powell's proposals warrant further study.”

Data sourced from: The Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff