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Chris Llana, Editor


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FCC Decides Issue of Mandated Digital Tuners for Mid-Size TVs

June 9, 2005

In its June 9 meeting, the FCC decided to modify its requirements for integrated digital tuners in 25" to 35" television sets. It retained the requirement that 50% of those sets have integrated digital (ATSC) tuners by July 1, 2005, while advancing the requirement for digital tuners in 100% of those sets four months to March 1, 2006 (from July 1).

All TV sets 36" and larger must have integral ATSC tuners by July 1, 2005.

Voting unanimously, the Commissioners adopted the staff-prepared Report & Order, along with a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would seek comment on changing the requirement for digital tuners in sets smaller than 25".

The regulatory action was initiated by a petition filed by the Consumer Electronics Association and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition (CEA/CERC) late last year, which sought to eliminate the existing requirement that 50% of new mid-size sets include digital tuners by July1, 2005, and by way of compensation, to advance the requirement for 100% compliance from July 1, 2006 to March 1, 2006.

In other words, CEA/CERC wanted to be able to continue manufacturing and selling an unlimited number of mid-size analog-only TVs until next March, notwithstanding the impending shut-off of analog broadcasts. Mid-size sets are sold in greater numbers than bigger and smaller TVs, so large numbers of new analog sales would make a smooth transition to the new ATSC/digital standard more difficult.

In response to the petition, the FCC published an NPRM on March 18 seeking comment. CEA/CERC members supported their petition. Other commenters urged the Commission to retain the July 2005 50% requirement, so that consumers would be able to find a good selection of mid-size digital sets in the stores during the coming year.

They also argued that the 100% requirement should be moved up in advance of the end-2005 holiday buying season, when disproportionately large numbers of TV sets are purchased for gifts, and many more purchased in January in advance of the Superbowl game.

In reaching their decision, the Commissioners all agreed that it was important to keep the transition moving forward. Commissioner Abernathy said "We've got to get there . . ., to push the transition to a conclusion."

Commissioner Copps commented on the need for manufacturers and retailers to provide consumers with information about the transition before they make their purchase. In the same vein, Commissioner Adelstein noted the need for labeling of analog-only TVs at the point of sale.

A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will seek comment on a deadline for integrated ATSC tuners in TVs smaller than 25". It specifies that the date must be no later than December 31, 2006. This would be a change from the existing FCC requirement--July 1, 2007.

There are good reasons for making the date earlier. A Congressional staff draft of the Digital Television Transition Act of 2005 (not yet a bill) included a requirement that all televisions down to 13" have integrated digital tuners by July 1, 2006.

We'll have more on all of this after the Report & Order is released.