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Official backs digital TV standard

A presidential adviser endorsed a digital TV standard being weighed the FCC.

An adviser on the President Clinton's science and technology policy team endorsed a digital television standard that the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering.

Lionel Johns, an associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, advised the FCC to move quickly to adopt the standard to help American companies compete with Europe, where a rival standard for digital TV is in the works.

However, The Wall Street Journal reported that a White House official said Johns did not represent the official position of the Administration, which prefers a more general and flexible approach.

The standard is backed by a "grand alliance" of broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers but opposed by the computer industry, which argues that the market, not government, should be allowed to decide industry standards and that the alliance standard is already obsolete.

At the heart of the standards battle is the eventual determination of how digital video signal will be brought into the home, who will have the right to do the broadcasting, and what will be the best machines to do so. Right now, the computer industry isn't happy.

"The [technical standard] has been optimized for video, but the computer guys want it optimized for computer applications," said Saul Shapiro of the FCC's Mass Media Bureau. "This is really about how the two industries are competing for time and eyeballs."

Larry Irving, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, also sent a letter to the FCC. He recommended the alliance standard, but as a basis for considering the concerns of other industries, as well as remaining flexible.

The FCC's final report should come within the year, said Shapiro, but he warned of the current political climate: "You never know, this is an election year. It always wreaks havoc on our processes."