Fritts: Cable Erecting HDTV Barriers

Washington -- Calling for a more consumer-friendly digital transition,
National Association of Broadcasters president Edward Fritts suggested Monday
that cable tiering and pricing represented barriers to some consumers interested
in high-definition television.

"The cost of cable providing [HDTV] service has to be considered because you
have to buy basic cable, expanded cable, digital cable with an extra box. And if
you want HDTV, in many instances, you have another box, a sidecar box," Fritts
said in remarks at the HDTV Summit here, hosted by the Consumer Electronics

Citing the Houston market without naming the cable company there, Fritts said
that before gaining access to HDTV programming, cable customers there needed to
spend $74.99 per month on various programming tiers.

"That's a barrier for some families," he added.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs,
who shared the rostrum with Fritts, responded strongly to charges that cable
operators were monopoly gatekeepers that carried just 75 of 779 TV stations on
air in digital.

Cable operators, Sachs said, are not required to carry both analog and
digital signals, and when TV stations surrender their analog signals, "there
won't be an issue with respect to carriage of all digital broadcasters in the

Sachs also said the majority of cable HDTV customers do not pay for the
programming and some TV stations are not carried in HDTV because the station
owners are demanding cash.

"The most common model today is that operators are charging customers getting
HD for equipment costs, which, by the way, are subject to government price
caps," Sachs said.

He added that competition from direct-broadcast satellite carriers sparked
$70 billion in upgrades, and MSOs intended to use their digital capacity to
offer HDTV from local TV stations as a competitive tool against DBS carriers
that lack the channel capacity.

"I think HDTV is the driver here," Sachs said.