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Powell Says FCC Seeks Comments On Plug & Play

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell brought a bit of news to his scheduled conversation with CEA president Gary Shapiro during CES, with the announcement that the FCC has sought comment on proposed rules for “plug and play” cable compatibility.

The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) will seek comment on the Memorandum Of Understanding filed in December between the cable and consumer electronics industries on a cable compatibility standard for an integrated one-way digital cable television receiver.

Powell demurred on giving a precise timetable for solidifying the agreement, but indicated he was dedicated to pushing the transition to digital television along as aggressively as possible.

“It will probably take between six to eight months,” Powell predicted.

Shapiro and Powell touched on a number of issues including HDTV, broadband, spectrum availability and intellectual property.

Powell commented on the issue of deadlines as they pertained to the transition to HDTV signals. “2006 was never realistic,” Powell said.

Rather, he indicated that 85 percent of the country has to be receiving HDTV signals before the switch over from analog signals, the 2006 deadline notwithstanding.

Deadlines also came up in the issue of wireless local number portability, with the commissioner saying he would hold firm to the November 2003 deadline for wireless carriers to allow consumers to keep their wireless number if they change carriers.

Addressing the issue of available spectrum, Powell noted that the benefits of spectrum democratization were evident on the show floor with the proliferation of interesting products and services developed around the unlicensed spectrum.

“Spectrum policy is broken,” said Powell. “Technology is moving too fast and our system is too cumbersome, but there isn’t a lot of spectrum left in the cupboard to auction off.”

Instead, Powell said the industry needed to leverage technology to maximize consumer’s application in the available spectrum.

Powell claimed that intellectual property was the commission’s “Achilles’ heel.”

“We are not a copyright office, but it impacts a lot of the policy we oversee, so we’re groping our way through,” Powell said. “Copyright is always a balancing act, the problem changes as the technology changes.”

The commissioner defended his activity on the broadband front in relation to must-carry regulations, saying that it was one of the most contentious issues he was dealing with and that government subsidies for broadband deployment would not be forthcoming.

“I view broadband as a national priority that holds amazing promise to stimulate the economy and by the summer we will have a clear picture of what everyone’s broadband obligations will be.”

Powell did delight attendees by revealing his favorite gift this past Christmas, TiVo, which illustrated his point that with digital technology changing so quickly it is more problematic to set absolute regulatory guidelines, especially in the digital era.