Powell Aide: DTV Plan Voluntary

Las Vegas -- A new digital-television plan unveiled last week by the Federal
Communications Commission is a voluntary proposal subject to modification, a
senior FCC official said here Sunday.

'I do want to emphasize that we do mean a voluntary plan. Nobody's business
model is the same. There will be lot of shades of gray,' FCC chief of staff
Marsha MacBride said.

MacBride is the most senior aide to FCC chairman Michael Powell, who released
his plan to expedite the digital-TV transition in identical letters April 4 to
Senate Commerce Committee chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) and House Energy and
Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.).

TV stations are supposed to return a big chunk of spectrum to the FCC at the
end of 2006, but only if 85 percent of TV households in market have digital
receivers of some kind.

Congress is hoping the FCC can auction the recovered broadcaster spectrum for
billions of dollars. That potential pot of gold is putting pressure on the
agency and the industry to take steps necessary to make the 85 percent target a

MacBride's comments about the plan were made at a regulatory forum
co-sponsored by the American Bar Association, the Federal Communications Bar
Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

MacBride's emphasis on the voluntary nature of the plan clashed with
statements made two days earlier by Kenneth Ferree, chief of the FCC's Media

Ferree, at a press briefing at FCC headquarters, pointedly reminded the cable
industry that it would sour relations with FCC officials if the industry did not
embrace the plan.

'That probably should be their assumption,' Ferree told reporters. 'They
should think that. I don't think they do themselves any favor at the commission
by not being proactive players in the digital transition.'