Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell in early April issued a plan that aims to goose the digital-television migration.
Noting that the plan is "voluntary," Powell suggested that ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and pay nets HBO and Showtime could populate at least 50 percent of their primetime schedule with HD programming or other "value-added" digital television programming during the 2002-2003 season. By Jan. 1, 2003, Powell also called on network affiliates in the top-100 markets to install the necessary equipment to offer HDTV programming, and cable systems with upgraded plant of 750 MHz or higher to offer to carry HD signals free of charge from the top-five TV stations or other programmers that include HD programming in at least 50 percent of their primetime schedules. Powell also proposed that 50 percent of TV sets 36 inches and wider come equipped with digital tuners by Jan. 1, 2004, and that all sets under those specs would require digital tuners by Jan. 1, 2005. Finally, under Powell's plan, all new sets 13 inches and wider would require digital TV tuners by Dec. 31, 2006.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association offered a neutral reaction to Powell's plan.
"Chairman Powell has put forward some thought-provoking proposals, several of which the cable industry is already actively working to accomplish," said NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs, who added that the NCTA looks "forward to discussing these proposals with Chairman Powell."
Several MSOs already have pushed forward with initial HDTV deployments. Comcast Cable Communications, which offers an HD tier in Philadelphia, said it would offer HD to subs in its major markets by the end of 2002, beginning this summer in the Washington Metro/Virginia region. Meanwhile, Charter Communications has plotted plans to offer HD in five markets (Alhambra/Pasadena and Glendale/Burbank, Calif.; University Park, Texas; South Miami, Fla.; and Birmingham, Ala.) during the second quarter of 2002, and expects to offer it in Kalamazoo, Mich. and St. Louis, Mo. during the third quarter of the year. Time Warner Cable, which has deployed digital in every market, has said it hopes to offer HD to at least 50,000 customers by the end of 2002.