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Powell blasts CEA on digital tuners

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell ripped off an angry
response to TV makers Friday after they basically refused his timetable for
equipping nearly all sets with digital tuners.

"The industry's response on DTV tuners is so limited and loaded down with so
many conditions that I believe it amounts to no commitment at all," he said in a
prepared statement.

Rather than saying "no" outright, the Consumer Electronics Association floated
a counterproposal to install digital-TV tuners in cable-compatible sets within 18 months
of an agreement with the cable industry that would allow manufacture of
"plug-and-play" digital sets that would work without cable system-supplied
set-top converter boxes.

Shortly after the CEA's announcement, Powell made it clear that his timetable wasn't
meant as a starting point for negotiations. "Not only does the
consumer-electronics industry demand that certain issues be resolved before they act,
they demand that they be resolved to their satisfaction. Other industries could have
made similar demands. Thankfully, they did not," he said.

Powell urged the CEA to "reconsider its position." The CEA and Cable Television Laboratories Inc., the
technical-development arm of the cable industry, have been arguing for years over "OpenCable" specifications that will allow digital plug-and-play sets.
"With more than 70 percent of Americans currently receiving their primary video
signal though cable, the CEA remains convinced that a successful DTV transition is
dependent on the adoption and implementation of a nationwide standard for
sending HDTV [high-definition television] over cable," association president Gary Shapiro wrote in a letter
to Powell.

As a way to speed the digital-TV transition, Powell in April asked set-makers to
equip one-half of sets 36 inches and larger with digital-TV tuners by Jan. 1, 2004; 100
percent by Jan. 1, 2005; and all sets 13 inches and larger by Dec. 31, 2006.

Powell's request was part of a broader initiative urging all sectors of the
television business to step up their efforts to support digital TV. The country's top
10 operators have agreed to carry up to five broadcast or other
digital-programming services at the beginning of next year.

Major network broadcasters to large markets have generally agreed to pass
through network digital TV, and the big broadcast and cable networks have agreed to
provide at least 50 percent of their primetime schedules in high-definition or
interactive programming this fall.

The CEA's response came one day after Powell needled it for being the only
industry to not respond to his April initiative.