Struggle over High-Definition TV Symbol of "Industrial Policy" Woes

Article excerpt

Early in April, the Pentagon quietly diverted to other purposes $20 million of $30 million allocated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to high-definition television.

About two weeks later, not so quietly, the Defense Department assigned Dr. Craig Fields, the director of Darpa, to another defense position.

Still later, Michael Sekora, the physicist who had directed the Defense Intelligence Agency's ``Project Socrates'' - which monitors the advanced technologies of U.S. economic competitors - announced that he had resigned.

He quit to protest reductions in the Bush administration's support for compiling an accurate data base on foreign technologies, with the aim of aiding U.S. high-technology efforts - those of the military and the private sector.

Fields' reassignment was labeled routine by the Pentagon, but in fact resulted from his efforts to direct government funds into research aiding the competitive position of the nation's commerce and industry, as well as improving its military strength.

That approach, called ``industrial policy,'' was symbolized by the commitment of Darpa funds to the development of high-definition television (HDTV).

But ``industrial policy'' is opposed by Richard Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Michael Boskin, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and John Sununu, President Bush's chief of staff - hence by the Bush administration. Last year Sununu rebuked Robert Mosbacher, the secretary of commerce, for trying to promote HDTV research.

Fields' ouster may have been precipitated by a $4 million Darpa investment in a radiation-resistant substitute for silicon called gallium arsenide, on terms allowing Darpa a share of the financial return.

But the controversy over HDTV, which has many highly placed supporters in industry and Congress, is more typical of the continuing dispute over ``industrial policy.''

HDTV would replace the 525 horizontal lines of current television receivers with 1,000 to 1,250 lines, resulting in a sharper visual image. Apart from its commercial potential for home TV sets, supporters claim important military applications - for example, flat-panel screens for improved information displays in tanks and aircraft. …