FCC Modifies Digital Tuner Requirements To Advance DTV Transition

Yesterday, the FCC denied a request by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Association (CERC) to delay the date by which 50% of mid-size TV receivers manufactured and imported must include built-in digital television (DTV) tuners. To further its efforts to ensure that consumers are able to receive off-the-air digital broadcast television services, the FCC also moved up the date by which all mid-sized TV sets must include a digital television (DTV) tuner. The Commission’s rules already provide that all large TV sets (36” and larger) must have built-in DTV tuners by July 1, 2005. Those rules also provide that 50% of mid-sized sets (25”-36”) must have DTV tuners by that date, and that all mid-sized sets must have DTV tuners by July 1, 2006. The rules also provide that all receivers with a screen size 13” or more, as well as other all other TV receiving devices (such as VCRs, DVDRs, etc.) must have DTV tuners by July 1, 2007.

The CEA and CERC asked the Commission to eliminate the 50% requirement for mid-sized sets, and to move up the date for full compliance for mid-sized sets to March 1, 2006 to address certain difficulties posed by the 50%. In its Report and Order, the Commission denied the request for elimination of the intermediate 50% compliance deadline, stating that such an action would delay the wider dissemination of DTV tuners in products of this size and would be inconsistent with its efforts to advance the DTV transition as rapidly as possible. The Commission did move up the date for 100% compliance for mid-sized TV receivers from July 1, 2006 to March 1, 2006, the earliest feasible date according to the industry.

In the same action, the Commission proposed to move up the date by which all TV receivers with screen size 13” or larger and other TV receiving devices (i.e., those without a viewing screen) must have DTV tuners from July 1, 2007, to a date no later than December 31, 2006, the statutory target date for the end of the DTV transition and the corresponding end of analog broadcast television transmissions. TV Interface Devices should be required to meet this timetable. Finally it asked whether a DTV tuner requirement should be extended to TV receivers with a screen size smaller than 13”. Public comment is sought on these proposals.

Reaction came quickly from NAB president & CEO Eddie Fritts: "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."