Sachs: Broadcast HDTV carriage in works

Rules governing whether cable companies will be required to carry
broadcasters' high-definition signals on the basic tier after the
digital-television transition is complete are a "work in progress," National
Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs told reporters

Finding "common ground" with TV stations over high-definition and digital TV
is a top priority for the cable trade group, but those talks are just beginning,
Sachs said during a year-in-review briefing.

Cable is eager to push higher-priced HDTV tiers to boost revenue, and
broadcast HDTV may be one of the key offerings for the service, industry
analysts said.

Cable MSOs must carry broadcast digital-TV signals on the basic tier, but whether HD
signals would have to be duplicated there is up for debate.

Broadcasters, however, aren't thrilled about the idea of segregating to
cable's upper tier what may be a prime audience draw one day.

Cable and TV group executives met in New York to lay groundwork for
future talks over digital-TV carriage, but little progress is expected soon.

On the cable industry generally, Sachs said 2002 was "really a paradox," but
the industry is settling down after the tumult of Wall Street declines and
revelations of accounting problems.

On the upside last year, subscriber growth was strong for add-on services
such as digital-cable tiers (up 26 percent), cable-modem service (up 57 percent)
and cable-telephony signups (up 47 percent).

Capital spending on upgrades was $14.6 billion, or $200 per customer.

That outlay should decline in 2003, and companies will reap the benefits of
the buildout.

Regarding threats from Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) to
reregulate cable rates, Sachs said the NCTA "looks forward" to showing lawmakers
how programming and other costs are behind the subscription-price