Washington, DC --
The cable television industry today pledged its “strong and enthusiastic support” for voluntary industry actions to speed the transition to digital television as proposed recently by FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

In a letter to Chairman Powell, from Robert Sachs, President and CEO, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the industry’s 10 largest multiple system operators committed their resources to spur the digital TV transition.

“Central to the actions announced by the cable industry is our belief that the availability of high definition television (HDTV) is key to create the market incentive for American consumers to purchase digital TV receivers,” Sachs said. “The cable industry’s initiative, together with the voluntary actions of other industries as suggested by Chairman Powell, should provide an important boost to the DTV transition.”

The 10 cable operators pledging support - AT&T Broadband, AOL-Time Warner, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Adelphia Communications, Cablevision Systems, Mediacom Communications, Insight Communications, and CableOne - collectively serve more than 85 percent of cable customers in the United States. To further bolster the DTV transition, the operators have committed to the following:
  • By January 1, 2003, they will offer to carry the signal of up to five commercial or public TV stations (at no cost to cable operators or broadcasters), or cable networks that provide HDTV programming during at least 50 percent of their prime time schedule or a substantial portion of their broadcast week.

  • As part of this digital complement, they may offer to carry other value-added DTV programming that would create an incentive for consumers to purchase DTV sets.

  • The offer to carry qualifying broadcast stations assumes that broadcasters will deliver a good quality signal to the cable operator.

  • Cable operators will begin immediately to place orders for integrated HD set-top boxes with digital connectors and provide these boxes to customers who request them.

  • Consistent with the cable industry’s October 2001 initiative to promote the retail availability of set-top boxes, cable operators will support consumers’ purchase of HD set-tops from consumer electronics retailers.

  • Cable operators will advertise and market HDTV and any other “value-added DTV programming” they provide, using a broad variety of promotional tools. NCTA also reiterated its March 2002 pledge to join forces with the broadcast and consumer electronics industries to promote HDTV.
The offer includes cable systems with more than 25,000 subscribers and activated bandwidth of at least 750 MHz in the top 100 markets.

The cable industry’s response to the Powell plan follows a spate of activity by cable operators and cable networks to bring HDTV programming to American television consumers. For example:
  • Time Warner Cable has launched HDTV service in more than 40 markets, including New York City, Orlando, Houston, Minneapolis, and Raleigh, NC. Among its markets, Time Warner is making broadcast HDTV signals available to nearly 5 million homes.

  • Charter Communications has announced its intention to launch HDTV tiers in seven of its markets, including Alhambra/Pasadena and Glendale/Burbank, CA; University Park, TX; South Miami, FL; Birmingham, AL; Kalamazoo, MI; and St. Louis, MO.

  • Comcast Communications has launched HDTV programming to more than 1.3 million homes in the Philadelphia area and announced plans to launch HDTV programming in the Baltimore/Washington area, Detroit and Indianapolis.

  • Comcast SportsNet has announced plans to televise more than 200 professional sporting events annually, starting in 2003, joining Madison Square Garden as producers of HDTV sports programming.

  • Discovery Communications has announced plans to launch “HD Theater,” a 24-hour HDTV channel, in June.

  • HBO and Showtime air thousands of hours per year of high definition programming.
In addition, cable operators have invested $60 billion - or $1,000 per cable subscriber - to upgrade their infrastructure to provide broadband services.

A copy of Sachs’ letter to Powell is attached.

The transition to digital television officially dates to 1996, when Congress gave every local broadcaster an additional 6 MHz of spectrum to make the transition from analog to digital. The FCC then assigned digital spectrum to specific broadcasters and adopted build-out and service rules for these digital stations. The FCC also established a build-out schedule for digital television stations and a target date of 2006 for cessation of analog broadcast service. Congress made the 2006 target date for return of the analog spectrum conditional in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Broadcasters do not have to give back the analog spectrum they use until 85 percent of the television households in their market are capable of receiving digital broadcasts, either over the air using a digital TV set or a digital-to-analog converter box, or through a multichannel video programming distributor.

On April 4, 2002, Chairman Powell proposed a voluntary plan calling for the consumer electronics, broadcasting, and cable industries to commit to a deployment plan for the technologies and services that will fulfill the public policy objective of transitioning to digital in order to free analog spectrum for other telecommunications uses.

NCTA is the principal trade association of the cable television industry in the United States. NCTA represents cable operators serving more than 90 percent of the nation's cable television households and more than 200 cable program networks, as well as equipment suppliers and providers of other services to the cable industry.

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