TV Warning Order Issued

The FCC this week released its order compelling retailers to label analog-only TV sets. As of May 25, merchants will have to display a written warning that analog TVs won't work the usual way come 2009. The order was approved at the commission's open meeting in April.

The digital tuner mandate covered all TVs made or shipped in the United States as of March 1, but as FCC Chairman Kevin Martin noted, there are probably some analog TVs out there still.

"Retailers today have an existing inventory of televisions with only analog tuners that they hope to sell," Martin said. "Consumers may not know that the television on the store shelf today may not be capable of receiving broadcast signals in 2009. This is critical information that customers both need and deserve to know."

The extent of analog TVs in retail circulation is unknown. In March, Michael Vitelli, senior vice president of Best Buy testified that there would be none left in the chain by May 1. He later adjusted that prediction, although the Best Buy in Falls Church, Va., had no analog sets on display in the days following Vitelli's testimony.

Alert reader Chris Llana of Chapel Hill, N.C. did a sneaker survey of his own May 1. Llana writes:

"Sears was the same as last month: 20-plus models of small (less than 25-inch) analog TVs on display, and no warning labels or consumer alerts.

"Circuit City has reduced their model count of analog-only TVs from about 35 last month to 20 or so today. No warning labels or consumer alerts.

"Best Buy was good last month; about the same now. They still have a handful of small analog sets, mostly LCDs, and no warning labels or consumer alerts anywhere.

"Wal-Mart had both digital and analog small TVs for sale, mostly CRTs. They did have the new FCC-mandated consumer alert label just below each analog TV, but they also had the same label below many of the digital CRT TVs as well, (saying, "this TV only has an analog tuner").

"Clearly, there has been a failure of communication somewhere along the chain of command. Someone may be equating traditional 4:3 aspect ratio CRT direct-view TVs with 'analog' TVs, even if a particular CRT model has been equipped with an ATSC digital tuner/demodulator.

"I noticed the same thing with TV listings. They now have a separate 'analog' TV category that also contains CRT TVs with digital tuners, and the listing on those digital TVs also now includes the FCC-mandated consumer alert."

The alert itself will read as follows:

"This television receiver has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after Feb. 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation's transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products."

It goes on to give contact information for the FCC. The May 25 date, when the label rule is to go into effect, is contingent upon approval from the Office of Budget and Management.