FCC Tees Up DTV Issues

WASHINGTON -The Federal Communications Commission is gearing up to decide several digital-television issues, perhaps in December. But it is expected to continue to postpone action on mandatory carriage by cable operators, according to agency and industry sources.

In the weeks ahead, FCC chairman William Kennard and the other four FCC commissioners are expected to consider issues such as tier placement, channel positioning and rate regulation of DTV signals.

But FCC and industry sources said the agency is not planning to decide whether cable operators are required to carry DTV signals along with analog signals during the transition.

Cable- and broadcast-industry sources greeted the possible FCC moves cautiously. Cable operators believe the non-carriage issues should be decided near the end of the transition, while many broadcasters want at least the carriage issue to be decided immediately.

In a related matter, the FCC could decide at its Dec. 7 meeting whether a start-up digital TV station in Stuart, Fla., is entitled to analog carriage on local cable systems.

The National Cable Television Association opposed the carriage request by WHDT-DT station owner Guenter Marksteiner, claiming cable operators were not required to carry a digital-only TV station in either digital or analog before the transition is complete.

After meeting with FCC officials, WHDT has apparently modified its request, and said it would go along with a decision that the station is entitled to either form of cable carriage. The cable operator would have the discretion to carry the station in analog or digital.

But if a cable operator carries the signal in digital, WHDT said, it must assure the station its signal can be viewed by a consumer with a high-definition TV set, as defined by the Consumer Electronics Association.

WHDT's demand would not require the cable operator to ensure that a consumer with a digital box and an analog TV set would be able to receive its digital signal.