FCC Mandates DTV Tuners

It could be the big break that the DTV transition needs. In its August meeting, the Federal Communications Commission told television makers to include digital tuners in nearly all sets by 2007, and in all sets larger than 36 inches by July 1, 2004.

"Now is logjam-breaking time," said Commissioner Michael Copps.

But no sooner did the meeting end when the Consumer Electronics Association said it would fight the mandate, in court if necessary.

"We think it's a bad policy," CEA President Gary Shapiro told reporters after the meeting. "We don't think the FCC has the authority, in fact, to rule in this area."

The FCC is relying on the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962, the law that mandated UHF tuners in televisions, as its authority in the action.

In the meantime, the rule is a major victory for broadcasters, who have complained that they've invested millions in government-mandated DTV transmission while other industries wait on the sidelines.

"Today's FCC decisions represent the most important action on digital television since adoption of the DTV standard in 1996," said NAB President Eddie Fritts. "FCC Chairman Powell and the commission recognized the Congressional imperative to stimulate the DTV marketplace, and deserve enormous credit for taking proconsumer steps to jump-start the transition."

In another potential boost to the DTV transition, the FCC also began a process for making rules on the so-called "broadcast flag," a key to many likely digital copyright-protection arrangements. Commissioners noted that industry players have reached consensus on some, but not all, copy-protection issues. The action begins the administrative process of receiving public input for possible rules.