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Activists Knock Powell HD Powwow

At the same time Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell is inside agency headquarters unveiling a consumer-education campaign for digital television Monday, activists seeking greater public-interest obligations on broadcasters will be outside the agency's doors making their point.

The Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition wants the FCC to impose specific public interest obligations on broadcasters in the digital age, partially as a quid pro quo for the greater programming capacity TV stations will get from digital multicasting.

"Not one of the participants (in Powell's event) represents consumers or the public interest community," the coalition complained in a letter to his office Sept. 30. "Moreover, nearly five years after the FCC posed the question of how television broadcasters should serve the public interest with their increased digital capacity, the FCC remains silent. "

On Monday, Powell will describe for reporters an FCC campaign to educate the public on the importance of the DTV switch and how it will affect viewing habits and TV sets. The event will include two panels of TV industry execs, including representatives from ESPN, Fox, CBS, HBO, Discovery, NCTA, CEA, DirecTV, Emmis Communications and public broadcasters.

The coalition, supported by FCC Democrats, is trying to persuade Powell to include greater public interest obligations--such as quotas for kids TV, local and independent programming and political coverage--as a condition of guaranteeing cable carriage of TV stations' digital multicasts.

That same night, the networks, CEA, NAB and others are holding their own kick-off event in Washington for, a Website to promote HD and DTV by giving viewers information on equipment and the broadcast, cable and satellite programing in their area.