Washington— The Federal Communications Commission last Thursday put more pressure on the consumer electronics industry to speed up deployment of TV sets that include over-the-air digital tuners.
A few key members of Congress and the National Association of Broadcasters have routinely complained about the ongoing sale of analog TV sets with no DTV tuners, especially when analog broadcasting is likely just a few years from extinction.
The FCC modified its rules so that all midsized DTV sets (defined as units with screens between 25 inches and just below 36 inches) must have integrated DTV tuners no later than March 1, 2006. The old deadline was July 2006.
Starting next month, all TV sets 36 inches and larger must have DTV tuners; during the previous 12 months, only 50% of such sets needed DTV tuners.
The FCC’s phase-in approach to the DTV tuner mandate — which the Consumer Electronics Association fought in federal court but lost — is to end in July 2007, at which point all sets 13 inches and larger are to include the tuners.
In a surprise move, the FCC also issued a proposal that would move the July 2007 deadline back to at least Dec. 31, 2006. The agency also sought comment on the need to extend the DTV tuner mandate to sets smaller than 13 inches.
“With today’s decision, the FCC validates that the 'tuner mandate’ is a powerful pro-consumer mechanism for moving the digital-television transition forward,” NAB president Edward Fritts said in a statement. “Allowing set manufacturers to continue selling analog-only TV sets only elongates the transition to digital.”
TV PRICE IMPACT?
CEA president Gary Shapiro warned that a more aggressive tuner mandate schedule could double the price of 13-inch sets, putting them out of the reach of low-income families. That could kill demand for small sets, perhaps prompting DTV set makers to discontinue that line or just build monitors with no tuners.
“By contrast, the current and anticipated July 2007 date allows time for economies of scale to fully develop. This will lessen the sticker shock for consumers, allowing these products a chance to compete against less expensive, tuner-less alternatives,” Shapiro said.
Earlier in the year, the CEA said that since 1998, Americans had purchased 16.1 million DTV sets, but only 1.5 million had integrated tuners.
Last year, U.S. consumers purchased 30 million analog sets. But the CEA expects that figure to plunge to 16.5 million in 2005 as consumers continue to transition to digital units.