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Hundt hot on digital trail at NCTA

NEW ORLEANS — FCC Chairman Reed Hundt came all the way to the National Cable Television Assn. annual confab in New Orleans on Tuesday to beat up on broadcasters he says are dragging their heels when it comes to entering the digital TV era.

If broadcasters fail to make a speedy transition to digital TV, Hundt told cablers it will create “an opportunity for you to establish and then extend your franchise as the provider of the half-dozen most important channels and the means of delivery.”

Hundt wants the major webs to convert their O&O stations in the top 10 markets within one year. Broadcasters say it will take at least six years to get just one digital TV station in each of the top 10 markets.

L.A. leads the way

According to a plan presented to the Federal Communications Commission two weeks ago, Los Angeles would be the nation’s digital leader with four operating stations within six years; New York would only have one digital station. Hundt called the industry plan unacceptable when it was presented and now is waiting for a revised presentation from broadcasters.

Another believer

House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) joined the digital conversion crusade Tuesday, telling cable execs here, “I agree with chairman Hundt; he is right.” While Tauzin said he supports Hundt, he refused to back him unequivocally, saying the digital roll-out should occur as soon as “feasibly possible.”

Hundt suggested Tuesday that broadcasters are not really interested in converting to digital television. “I’m beginning to wonder if broadcasters really want the DTV licenses. A cynic would think that broadcasters just don’t want someone else to have them,” Hundt said.

In a small concession to broadcasters, an aide to Hundt said Tuesday that broadcasters could have as long as 18 months to complete the buildout in the top markets, so long as at least half of the O&Os are digital within the first year.

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