Electronics lobby softens on DTV

Apr 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In a fast about-face, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said last week that his organization will reconsider its opposition to a Federal Communications Commission plan to expedite the digital TV transition.
Under a proposal unveiled April 4, FCC Chairman Michael Powell asked key industries to share the DTV transition pain by committing to a series of voluntary actions to encourage the new technology’s rollout.
While the broadcast and cable industries offered immediate support, CEA vehemently opposed a proposal obliging manufacturers to include DTV tuners in TV receivers, causing some to wonder whether the plan was doomed from the start.
But Mr. Shapiro told reporters at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas last week that the CEA may change its mind. “We recognize the chairman’s statement is something we should spend some time thinking about,” Mr. Shapiro said.
A CEA spokesman attributed the association’s initial negative response to the belief of its members that “mandates are generally anathema.”
“Upon further reflection, we want to see specifically if we can be more supportive,” the spokesman said.
The FCC’s Mr. Powell, also on hand at the convention, told reporters that the agency had not threatened to retaliate against CEA. “There is no express threat of rules-but with the big caveat that the government always is a regulator and always has authority,” Mr. Powell said.
Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, warned that absent voluntary industry commitments, the Powell proposal could always become a “blueprint for congressional legislation.”
Said Preston Padden, Walt Disney Co. executive VP, government relations, “I think they’ll come on board, because they’ll conclude that’s the politic thing to do.”
Along with the tuner obligation, Mr. Powell’s proposal calls on many cable operators to carry up to five digital signals. In addition, it urges the Big 4 TV networks to offer at least half of their prime-time schedules in high-definition TV or some other enhanced digital format.