FCC Speeds Up DTV Tuner Deadline

The makers of television receivers got a mixed decision last week from the FCC on the issues of digital tuners in new television sets.

The commission rejected a request to eliminate a pending requirement that 50 percent of all mid-sized television sets include digital tuners by July 1, 2005. However, FCC members accepted a proposal to accelerate the date by which 100 percent of those mid-sized sets, from 25in to 36in, must include digital tuners.

The previous deadline for 100 percent compliance was July 1, 2006. But because the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) said its manufacturers could meet the mandate by March 1, 2006, the FCC imposed that deadline.

The decision effectively renders a dual-deadline requirement on electronics manufacturers, who said the 50 percent rule had proved unworkable in the marketplace.

The 50 percent threshold applies to each manufacturer or importer. Retailers and manufacturers said this July’s deadline was slowing the transition to digital because consumers were continuing to buy more of the traditional analog TVs, which are less expensive.

Broadcasters claimed victory in the debate surrounding digital tuners that has surfaced on Capitol Hill as part of a fixed date for the end of analog broadcasting. The NAB has taken aim at the foreign electronics manufacturers that continue to sell soon-to-be-obsolete analog televisions.

The FCC decision validates that the tuner mandate is a pro-consumer mechanism for moving the digital television transition forward, said Eddie Fritts, the NAB’s president.

The tuner mandate was imposed on sets greater than 36in July 1, 2004, with the requirement that 50 percent of those manufactured or imported into the U.S. include digital tuners. All such larger sets must have digital tuners by July 1, 2005.

The next deadline — digital tuners in 100 percent of all sets 13in and higher — remains unchanged at July 1, 2007. The FCC action includes a notice seeking comment on whether it should accelerate that deadline to no later than Dec. 31, 2006.

The commission also sought comment on whether to impose a tuner requirement on televisions smaller than 13in.

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