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February 6, 1989

The Honorable Edward J. Markey

United States Congress

Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee

H2-316 House Office Bldg. Annex II

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Markey:

As you may know, the Community Antenna Television Association (CATA) has had considerable misgivings about filing an "action memo" in response to your call for comments on coordinating and furthering the development of HDTV in the United States. This reticence stems from our highly skeptical view of the alleged "benefits" of HDTV except to the various industries promoting it for their own self-interests.

There is an old adage which we have often reminded the Federal Communications Commission of, that may be appropriate to repeat in this instance:

"...You can never tell how deep a puddle is ...
until you step in it."

We believe there is a significant danger of drowning in the "puddle" known as HDTV. In a quick perusal of reports on the first set of "action memos" to arrive in the Subcommittee's offices we note that once again we are being told of the wonders of High Definition Television. Indeed, it goes even farther than that. We see urgings of consideration of devices that would combine numerous forms of communication from television and telephone to CD's and fax machines! Other advocates of the "new technologies" confidently prognosticate that we need not even talk of "television" anymore for in a very few years each home will be outfitted with a computer and high quality display


This is all reminiscent of the articles and proponents of an immediate "communications revolution" that was allegedly going to be brought about by cable television in the early '70s, or the confident prediction that everyone would soon have a computer running everything in their "smart house" in the beginning of the '80s. of course neither came to pass. Both technologies are

Community Antenna Television Association⚫ P.O. Box 1005, Fairfax, Virginia 22030 ● (703) 691-8875

doing well, but the public, not the pundits controlled the rate and direction of growth. This, we believe, is as it should be.


We know such a lessez-faire attitude is difficult in the face of claims that something like HDTV could be the "spark" to rekindle the American consumer electronics industry -- or the necessary incentive to maintain the American semiconductor industry. Yet despite those enticing claims we urge you to listen, instead, to those who ultimately must pay the bills: the American consumers. To be sure, cable television could and will benefit from HDTV development as well as all other interested parties. But we do not think it wise to ignore the true interests of our customers. We have been forced to do that by excessive governmental "social engineering" in the past and in each instance we have found that the consumer, our customer, wound up unfairly paying the bill.


There is already a record before you suggesting that there are severe questions as to the real consumer demand for HDTV. The technology can produce startlingly good pictures. But then, so can a Nikon or Hassleblad camera--yet most consumers find "point and shoot" cameras just fine for their purposes. Stereo sound for television viewing is a vast improvement over more common, small speaker monophonic sound, yet years after its introduction most television stations do not even have the capability to transmit in stereo. "Surround sound" is another favorite of "high-end" television watchers, but the market indicates that this, too will be a slow, evolutionary development. We should learn from those experiences. Tests with average viewers have already shown that the impact of HDTV is lost on the average-sized television screen in this country. It is only when we start dealing with large-screen TV viewing that the apparent "benefits" of HDTV appear. And even then, improvements in the current technology are moving rapidly. Pictures are getting considerably better now, without the need for billions in expenditures by the American viewing public.

You now raise the question of the government becoming integrally involved in promoting this new and unproved technology. Of course you are not alone -- but you are conducting by far the most comprehensive inquiry into the appropriate steps, if any, the government should take. The inquiry is laudable. The technology, however, from CATA's point of view, is questionable. And the potential impact on the public could be deplorable. As one "action memo" writer from MIT notes, we could be heading for a " disaster" if we ignore those who ultimately pay the bill, for they, not we "the experts" or "the industries" or "the government" will ultimately decide whether they are willing to pay that bill.

I do not think it is out of line to throw in a reminder in the midst of all this talk of the wonders of new technology about the realities we are dealing with. The comments filed by the National Association of Public TV stations certainly serve as a reminder of that reality. It will cost almost as much, approximately $3 Billion, to "upgrade" public television stations for HDTV transmission capability as the government has spent to date on the entire public broadcasting system!

I posit a simple question: If we do not, apparently, have the money to feed the hungry children in our land, and we have scant funds to feed the minds of those children, does it really make sense to seriously consider proposals to "improve" television pictures with government funds and effort so that we can more clearly see the tines of an empty fork?

We think not.


Srophew R. Effen

Stephen R. Effros




Paul E. Symczak

Vice President,

General Counsel and Secretary


February 1, 1989

Honorable Edward J. Markey

Chairman, Subcommittee on

Telecommunications and Finance

Committee on Energy and Commerce

House of Representatives

Room 2125, Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515


Methods of Optimizing American Participation in the
Development of Advanced Television Technologi..

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of Donald E. Ledwig, President of the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, I am pleased to submit the Corporation's statement on
the development of advanced television technologies. The Corporation
for Public Broadcasting appreciates the opportunity you extended to
present its views on a matter that will have far-reaching effects on
the services provided by public television to the citizens of the
United States.

We would be pleased to further assist the Subcommittee in this respect as it proceeds with its consideration of the development of advanced television technologies.


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