FCC Action Signals New Momentum for Transition

The FCC's action on June 9 to move up the deadline for some new TV sets to comply with digital tuner requirements by several months appeared to send a clear signal to all parties--especially manufacturers--that the federal government wants the DTV transition to proceed at a faster pace without further delay. The commission's initiative means the new deadline for certain DTV sets will be to March 1 instead of July 1, 2006. There is, after all, federal money at the end of the rainbow with billions of dollars in auctioned spectrum yet to come.

To the delight of the NAB, the FCC also denied a request by the Consumer Electronics Association and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Association to delay the date by which half of all new mid-size TV receivers (25 to 36-inch) must include built-in DTV tuners. (FCC rules already stipulate that all sets 36-inch and larger must have built-in DTV tuners by July 1, 2005.)

In its Report and Order, the commission denied the request for elimination of the intermediate 50 percent compliance deadline sought by the CEA by stating that "such an action would delay the wider dissemination of DTV tuners in products of this size and would be inconsistent with [FCC] efforts to advance the DTV transition as rapidly as possible." The commission also opened a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to move the final deadline for smaller sets (starting at 13-inches) up by six months, to Dec. 31, 2006. Meanwhile, The FCC will formally seek comments about whether tuners also should eventually be mandated for screens smaller than 13-inches.

Despite the possibility that by next fall the President could be signing a two-year Congressional extension of the mandatory cut-off of analog broadcast signals (assuming the 85 percent rule is met) to midnight of Dec. 31, 2008, the FCC continues to see all DTV issues in relation to the Dec. 31, 2006 deadline, which is, of course, the current rule.

Some analysts believe that even New Year's Day of 2009 is an unrealistic date for a total cut-off, and that we'll be looking somewhere in the Teens Decade (2013 or later) before the 85 percent market penetration rule will be met in all markets.