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Kennards last DTV try

FCC Chairman William Kennard, who resigns Friday, this week gets one last shot at settling several DTV issues.

The commission has been trying to resolve a host of DTV questions, most concerning technical requirements for cable carriage of broadcast DTV signals. But Kennard also wants to propose making most TV sets include a digital tuner in order to speed consumer acceptance of the technology.

Kennard tried to get his colleagues to vote on the DTV matters at last week's meeting, but they and FCC staffers were too focused on wrapping up the America Online-Time Warner merger review. Kennard said the DTV issues would be voted by Wednesday.

Among other DTV issues are tier placement of local DTV channels, signal-degradation restrictions, and procedures that stations must follow when choosing either mandated carriage or retransmission-consent negotiations.

One possible requirement upsetting broadcasters is a plan to make them duplicate their entire analog coverage area with a digital signal by 2003. Right now, they are allowed to use cheaper, less powerful antennas mounted on the side of towers to send digital signals only to their city of license. Although all broadcasters realize that they eventually will have to duplicate their entire coverage in DTV, the shift could make them speed up their DTV expenditures unexpectedly.

"It's wrong to start changing the rules this far in the game," said one broadcast industry source.

The FCC isn't likely to decide the highly controversial debate over whether TV stations are entitled to dual carriage of both their digital and analog stations during the transition and instead is expected to order a study of cable systems' plans to increase channel capacity. Originally, the study appeared to be an indication of FCC intent to require dual carriage of analog and digital broadcast signals at some point during the DTV transition if system operators have room. But the pending change to a Republican-dominated panel has put execution of that plan in doubt.