FCC Urged to Advance DTV-Tuner Mandate


The Federal Communications Commission should move up the July 2007 deadline that requires nearly all new TV sets to include over-the-air digital tuners, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said Tuesday.

Speaking to a group of telecommunications lawyers and media executives, Barton said he was sending the FCC a letter in which he would call for a late-2005 or early 2006 digital-TV-tuner deadline.

Barton said July 2007 was problematic because he supports ending TV broadcasters’ transition to digital-only transmission six months earlier, or Dec. 31, 2006. After the transition, analog-TV sets won’t work unless they are connected to signal-converter boxes or hooked up to pay TV providers.

“At the staff level, their concern is that they don’t think the industry can meet [Dec. 31, 2006] because the [digital-TV] equipment won’t be there,” Barton explained. “I’d like the accelerated [tuner] date to be sometime at the end of 2005 or the early part of 2006 so that we get that past us.”

Over the objections of the Consumer Electronics Association, the FCC ordered TV-set makers to include digital-TV tuners in all sets except those smaller than 13 inches under a three-year timetable that began in July 2004 with 50% of all sets 36 inches and larger.

The FCC cracked down when broadcasters complained that many, if not all, high-end HDTV sets being sold did not include digital-TV tuners and required consumers to buy external set-top boxes to view over-the-air signals.

National Association of Broadcasters president Edward Fritts, who attended Barton’s speech, voiced support for moving up the tuner deadline. “I think he’s onto something there. It’s hard to watch digital television without a digital tuner,” Fritts said.

A Consumer Electronics Association spokesman was unavailable to comment on Barton’s proposal.

Under the FCC’s timetable, 50% of all TV sets between 25 inches and 35 inches need digital-TV tuners by July 2005. The CEA has asked the FCC to drop the July 2005 deadline and put in place a 100% requirement for sets between 25 inches and 35 inches by March 1, 2006.