Sinclair pushes for stiffer rules on digital tuners

Nov 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Recently adopted Federal Communications Commission rules requiring consumer electronics manufacturers to include digital TV tuners in new sets will have to be beefed up to ensure that broadcasters can get their DTV signals to consumers over the air.
At least that was the word from Sinclair Broadcast Group last week in a petition to the FCC.
“It’s clear that the consumer electronics industry is not interested in making the best possible off-air receiving equipment,” said Nat Ostroff, Sinclair VP of new technology, in an interview.
Under the regulations at issue, the FCC specifically ordered consumer electronics manufacturers to start including DTV tuners in sets beginning July 2004.
The rules are supposed to help spur the DTV rollout by ensuring that new sets are capable of receiving digital signals, not just the current generation of analog signals, over the air.
But the hitch for broadcasters, according to Sinclair, is that the FCC said only that the tuners must be capable of “adequately” receiving DTV, without setting any standard on what “adequate” means.
That, according to Sinclair, means the DTV tuners installed may be incapable of indoor reception and other minimal capabilities that consumers expect from their TV sets.
If the FCC doesn’t step in, “The marketplace will be flooded with inadequate receivers with poor over-the-air reception capability” and broadcasters “will only be able to reach our audience through a satellite or cable connection,” Mr. Ostroff said. “To me, that means the value of our broadcast spectrum is significantly diminished.”
Michael Petricone, VP of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association, said the marketplace could be relied on to ensure that “products meet consumer needs.”
But Mr. Ostroff noted that CEA has been fighting the DTV tuner initiative for years and is currently suing to block implementation of the regulations-at least in part because manufacturers don’t see broadcast DTV as a major DTV market.
“They try to save pennies,” Mr. Ostroff said. “They’re not going to spend $10 [for a decent DTV tuner] if they don’t have to.”
CEA’s Mr. Petricone said, “This is the same group [Sinclair] that has been relentlessly dragging its feet on the DTV transition for years. It’s time for the FCC to say enough is enough.”
Mr. Ostroff said in response, “This is the flag and motherhood for broadcasters. We are appealing for broadcasters to step up and support the petition.”
`Manufacturers don’t care’
Mr. Ostroff also said broadcasters can’t count on the marketplace to ensure that the tuners meet broadcast needs because the DTV rollout is not being driven by market factors.
“This [the DTV transition] is a government-mandated activity,” Mr. Ostroff said.
“Equipment manufacturers have made it no secret they do not care about the quality of over-the-air reception because, in their view, most consumers rely on cable or satellite,” Sinclair said in its petition. “If manufacturers view over-the-air reception as unimportant and worthless, there can be little doubt that commission-mandated tuners will be worthless as well.”
At deadline, representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters and Association for Maximum Service Television said they were still studying the Sinclair petition.