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FCC may create DTV task force

Aug 27, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to resuscitate digital television, the Federal Communications Commission is considering creating a task force to ride herd on DTV’s rollout, sources said last week.
At deadline, FCC sources said no decision had been made on details of the task force’s composition or its precise mission-or even whether to give it a green light.
But the concept is being played as a way to advance FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s interest in beefing up agency oversight of the troubled DTV transition.
“The chairman has said this is an important issue that needs our attention and focus,” a key FCC source said. “We’re in the process of figuring out the most effective way to accomplish that.”
The DTV transition has run into stumbling blocks at virtually every turn in recent years, due to everything from concerns about the viability of the DTV transmission standard to a lack of assurance that cable TV operators will pass DTV broadcasts through to their 70 million cable subscribers.
During the eight years of the Clinton administration, industry transition concerns received
scant attention at the FCC, and some industry leaders blamed that lack of concern for the rollout’s stumbling pace.
So industry sources say they are encouraged by Mr. Powell’s expression of interest in DTV.
“Anything that would show the FCC’s interest in moving the ball forward would be very welcome,” said an industry source, who asked not to be identified.
Sources said the rest of the Bush administration’s FCC appointees-Democrat Michael Copps and Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin-also appear to be more concerned about the DTV transition than their Clinton administration predecessors, because the new crew realizes it is likely to be held accountable for DTV’s fate.
“The bottom line is this thing is either going to take off or crash and burn on their watch,” a source said.
At the very least, the FCC task force, said one well-placed source, would consolidate DTV oversight at the agency under a single point person. As it stands, bits of DTV oversight responsibility are spread throughout the agency’s numerous bureaus and offices.
Sources also said that one of Mr. Powell’s top staffers-Ken Ferree, chief of the Cable Services Bureau-has invited industry leaders to the FCC in the near future to “jawbone” them about his transition concerns.
To call attention to his interest in the technology’s rollout, Mr. Powell warned cable operators at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s convention in June that it would be in their interest to be perceived as partners in the digital transition instead of obstacles.
“Consumers will value these new services … and they will demand access to them through their cable systems,” Mr. Powell said at the time.
As another sign of his interest in the new technology, Mr. Powell recently had a high-definition TV set installed in the lobby of the FCC’s Washington headquarters building.