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NAB, MSTV Oppose DTV Tuner Mandate Delay

NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) are urging the FCC to reject a proposal by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to eliminate the requirement that 50 percent if all television sets shipped after July 1, 2005 have DTV tuners.

NAB President/CEO Eddie Fritts accused the CEA of perpetuating fraud on the American consumer.

"CEA member companies continue to sell millions of analog TV sets every year, while refusing to tell consumers that these sets will soon be obsolete or need converters to work in the digital era," Fritts said.

"Every analog set sold to a consumer willing to purchase a new television set necessarily decreases the likelihood that a given market will soon reach the 85 percent statutory threshold. Such delay, aside from depriving consumers of the benefits of digital technology, will impede the return of analog spectrum allotted for future use by first responders and commercial wireless providers," according to NAB and MSTV.

Both groups also point to Congressional actions in their comments, noting, recent press reports, "House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton has stated his intention to ask the Commission to accelerate the deadline for the final DTV tuner mandate (i.e., the date by which all sets sold that are 13 inches or greater in size must include a DTV tuner) to 2005 or early 2006. Against this backdrop, the Commission should not take any action that could delay consumers' acceptance of DTV technology."

NAB and MSTV included results of a study showing that in 54 percent of U.S. homes, the largest TV set is between the 25 and 35-inch screen size covered under the July 2005 50 percent rule.

I presented CEA's side of argument in the Feb. 22, 2005 RF Report . One of the arguments CEA made for delaying the 50 percent date and accelerating the 100 percent date from July 2006 to March 2006 was that this would cause retailers to over-order analog sets, creating a surplus of DTV sets. In their comments, "MSTV and NAB do not disagree that phased implementation of a given size of receiver may be inefficient from an enforcement standpoint. Nevertheless, the number of sets that become available to consumers while the 50 percent requirement is in effect would certainly be greater than if there were no mandate during that time. Some is better than none, and CEA-CERC should not be allowed to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Also, turning the 50 percent requirement into a 0 percent requirement is not the only, or even most logical, option should the Commission conclude that a phased approach to 25-35 inch sets is inefficient."

CEA recommends that Congress enact a 100 percent requirement effective July 2005 to avoid the inefficiencies of a phased approach and avoid harm to public interest.

NAB and MSTV note that the rationale for the 50 percent requirement was to give manufacturers time to "develop efficiencies in production" of DTV sets and keep prices reasonable and it no longer applies. "The innovations of some manufacturers have achieved those efficiencies ahead of schedule; thus, it is unlikely that consumers will see an appreciable 'spike' in prices of 25-35 inch receivers if manufacturers are required to produce only DTV sets in that category by July 2005. For example, RCA has announced a 27-inch set, available this summer, which will sell for less than $300. In short, the economic thesis that underlies the CEA-CERC petition is simply denied by the reality of the new RCA sets." NAB and MSTV explain the consumers expect their TV sets to be able to pick up all broadcast signals.

NAB and MSTV complained that retailers, with support from CEA, have not consistently explained the importance of DTV tuner functionality to their customers. As a result, "Not surprisingly, consumer confusion has resulted. In most major electronic retail outlets throughout the country, it is next to impossible to find an in-store display of off-air DTV reception and capability. As recently as January, at the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CEA introduced a brochure called 'The 3 Simple Steps to HDTV.' Billed on its cover as a brochure that is designed to make it easy for you to learn the simple steps to get the full high definition experience in your home, the words 'broadcast', 'antenna' or 'over-the-air' do not even appear in this brochure, as if terrestrial broadcasting of HDTV programming did not exist. Step 2 of the brochure, titled 'Get the Programming,' brazenly states, '[c]all your local cable or satellite provider to order HDTV programming - the only way to get the full HD movie theater experience in your home."

I urge you to take a look at the Joint Comments of MSTV and NAB .

This is an important issue for broadcasters, especially with Congress considering shutting down analog TV broadcasting possible as soon as Dec. 31 next year. I'd be interested in readers' comments about their experiences purchasing set-top boxes or DTV sets for OTA reception at consumer electronics stores. Was it possible to buy a DTV set or set-top box without getting a sales pitch for a satellite HDTV service? At NAB I heard of a case where an electronics store refused to sell the customer an ATSC set-top box unless they also purchased a DBS HDTV package! Somewhat contradictory to this, I also heard Wal-Mart was prevented from selling the USDTV HDTV set-top boxes without the USDTV subscription package at a higher price than those purchased with the subscription. The USDTV subscription provides cable TV programming for a fee using broadcast DTV spectrum.