What's in a name? Big money

Does anybody not in the cable business itself fully understand some of the terms being bantered about indiscriminately both in conversation, in official reports, in franchise applications, etc? Do all the people inm the cable business fully understand the terms?

How does an interactive system differ from a two-way system? And where does an addressable system fit in the picture?

Millions of dollars are involved in the definitions, with legal action pending and being prepared, as the various would-be cable- system operators decide what definition to give to whatever it is they are promising -- in many instances when an exclusive franchise is granted to a cable system which promises to deliver still-undefinitely defined services.

For example, Manhattan Cable TV just announced it will introduce "a 35 -channel Total control addressable converter" to new subscribers who also subscribe to at least one of its elective pay-TV services. Aside from the fact that this will mean, with installation charges excluded, a cost of at least around $20 per month for a start, previous customers will have to make do for many years with the old nonaddressable converter. And does anybody -- customer or, for that matter, most cable people -- understand exactly what an addressable converter is? Or agree with any other cable system about what constitutes an "addressable" converter?

According to Manhattan Cable's president, an addressable system converter controls programming to subscribers from a central computer.

He says this gives subscribers greater flexibility in the choice of programs and precludes the need for multiple service calls on the home. That all sounds fine for the cable company -- but does it really benefit the consumer?

Meantime, Dr. Ben Park, a telecommunications consultant, has been writing an urgent communication to New York Mayor Edward Koch, bringing to his attention "a very dangerous recommendation" in the New York City Cable Action Plan recently prepared for the city by Arnold & Porter. The terms interactive and two-way are confused, according to Dr. Park (PhD in communications), and the notion that "narrowband interaction represents the total of what is implicit in interactive capability is erroneous."

All of which may be clear to Dr. Park, but only serves to make the citizens of New York even more wary of "expert" advice.

Perhaps what is needed first is a universally accepted lexicon of cable system terms. Then we can all get on with it -- whatever itm is.

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