Divergent standards for cable modems could become a new source of transatlantic friction if the European Commission stays on schedule to propose adapting current television standards to keep up with technological change.
The proposal, due later this year, would update a 1995 directive on television standards and bring cable modems under its scope for the first time. It would give the European Union the opportunity to endorse the so-called Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard, according to a Commission official who asked not to be identified.
The DVB standard is favored by many European companies, including Alcatel SA, Sagem SA and Thomson Multimedia SA, which in October set up a consortium to promote the standard. US companies generally have opted for the so-called MCNS or DOCSIS (Data Over Cable system Interface Specification) standard.
Although the Commission official insisted that the two standards are compatible, endorsement of the DVB standard could give European companies a competitive advantage over US rivals in the European market. The DVB standard has the advantage of providing a solution for all digital platforms, in contrast to MCNS, which is specific to cable, the official explained.
The Commission's preference probably reflects the notably European pedigree of the DVB standard. That standard was developed under the auspices of the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union, which in 1993 set up the European DVB Project.
Since then, both the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (Cenelec) have worked on turning various DVB specifications into standards.