FCC orders digital tuners in TVs by ’07

Aug 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission decided last week that broadcasters should not be the only ones to have to shoulder the burden of the transition to digital, but that it should be shared by TV set makers.
The FCC last Thursday voted to require TV set manufacturers to include digital tuners on virtually all new sets by 2007. The phased rollout starts with larger, more expensive sets.
The FCC characterized DTV receivers as an essential component of broadcast service in the same way that analog receivers have been heretofore. As the transition to digital progresses, digital receivers will become dominant.
According to the FCC mandate, receivers with screen sizes of 36 inches or more must include digital tuners sometime between 2004 and 2005; receivers with screen sizes of 25 to 35 inches will be phased in from 2005 to 2006; and receivers with screen sizes of 13 to 24 inches must include DTV tuners by July 1, 2007.
While consumers will likely pay higher prices for an integrated set, the FCC noted in its ruling that prices of large TV sets have been declining at a rate of $100 to $800 per year, so the cost of the DTV tuner may be offset by the price decline.
The decision was welcomed by the National Association of Broadcasters and lambasted by the Consumer Electronics Association, whose members will bear the brunt of its economic impact.
The NAB is thrilled to have company in the digital transition. “I can’t overestimate the importance of this decision,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “Up to this point broadcasters have been the only industry facing any mandate to go digital.”
`Government fiat’
The CEA, by contrast, bemoaned what it referred to as “government fiat.” Consumer demand should dictate the integration of DTV tuners into TVs and that demand simply isn’t strong yet, said CEA spokeswoman Jenny Miller. There are currently 23 integrated sets on the market. The first integrated sets were introduced in 1998. “The truth is they don’t sell as well as monitors,” she said. “Most consumers don’t need it because they get signals through cable.”
While the association isn’t fond of government intervention into market dynamics, Ms. Miller said the CEA would like the government to intercede on the cable side so that consumers have choices when it comes to selecting a set-top box.
She added that CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro has said the association will likely fight the DTV decision in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The CEA also pointed to the high consumer costs of the requirement. Since most consumers rely on cable to receive their local signals, digital cable equipment compatibility is more likely to spur the DTV transition, Mr. Shapiro said in a statement.