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FCC Tightens Digital Tuner Requirements

Jun 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a defeat for the Consumer Electronics Association, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to reject a CEA request to throw out a requirement that manufacturers include digital TV tuners in half of the midsized sets sold in the United States by July 1 this year.

Adding to the sting, the FCC also advanced a deadline for all medium-sized sets to include DTV tuners from July 1, 2006, to March 1. CEA’s request to eliminate this year’s DTV tuner requirement for medium-sized sets (25-36 inches) was vigorously opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters, which alleged that manufacturers want to unload millions of analog-only sets during this year’s holiday season.

The FCC’s commissioners agreed with the broadcasters that its DTV tuner mandates are critical to ensure that consumers will be able to receive over-the-air broadcast signals when broadcasters switch to DTV. “We’ve got to get there, and we can’t take any steps backwards,” said FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.

Added FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: “We’re doing all that we can moving forward.”

Under the FCC’s original DTV tuner rules, all sets larger than 36 inches are supposed to include DTV tuners by July 1 this year — and that requirement remains in place. Also under the existing regulations, all sets with screens larger than 13 inches are supposed to include DTV tuners by July 1, 2007. But during its meeting Thursday, the agency proposed to advance the July 1, 2007, deadline by at least six months — and made clear that it is open to extending the DTV tuner requirement to all sets, including sets smaller than 13 inches, which were exempt from the manufacturing obligation under the agency’s original rules.

In a statement, Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, said he was disappointed by FCC’s decision to retain the deadline this year but pleased that the agency had moved up next year’s tuner requirement. CEA also warned that the proposal to require tuners in all sets by the end of next year “would sharply raise prices on smaller sets,” harming low-income consumers. “The unfortunate result of accelerating the tuner mandate deadlines for all sets would be to decrease the number of DTV tuners in the marketplace, which clearly does not serve the transition,” Mr. Shapiro said.

In a statement Thursday, Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, said: “With today’s decision, the FCC validates that the ‘tuner mandate’ is a powerful pro-consumer mechanism for moving the digital television transition forward. We salute Chairman Martin and other FCC commissioners for accelerating the original tuner schedule, and we strongly support the proposal to move up DTV tuner compliance for smaller TV sets. Allowing set manufacturers to continue selling analog-only TV sets only elongates the transition to digital.”