FCC accelerates DTV set mandate

US media regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has brought forward by four months a requirement that from next spring digital television manufacturers must install digital receivers in all mid-size sets.

The commission voted unanimously to require that mid-size sets with screens between 25 and 36 inches will be capable of receiving digital television by March 1, 2006. Under current US laws analogue television signals are due to be switched off by the end of next year, so long as 85% of households have made the switch—a prospect that most observers consider unlikely.

The FCC turned down a request from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to scrap a mandate that from July 1 this year half of new mid-sized sets made and imported in the US must have digital receivers.

Under current FCC rules all large TV sets (with screen sizes of 36 inches and over) must have built-in digital tuners by July 1. All receivers with screen sizes of 13 inches or more and all other TV receiving devices, such as VCRs, and recordable DVD players, must have digital tuners by July 1, 2007, though the FCC has opened a consultation over whether that date should be brought forward to December 31, 2006, the statutory date for analogue switch-off (subject to the 85% take-up figure).

The CEA said the FCC's ruling that all mid-sized sets must have digital tuners by March 1, 2006, will "help speed the consumer migration to DTV".

"We are pleased the FCC has accepted our proposal to expedite the 100% tuner deadline. Our proposal provides the certainty manufacturers need to plan and produce products to help complete the DTV transition," said CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro.

But Shapiro said the CEA was disappointed that the 50% deadline had been maintained since it created uncertainty in the marketplace for manufacturers and retailers. And the CEA expressed concerns that the proposed 2006 digital tuner mandate would sharply raise prices of smaller sets.

"CEA is very concerned that accelerating this schedule from its original July 1, 2007, date will be extremely difficult for manufacturers to meet and would cause severe disruption in the consumer marketplace," said a CEA statement.

"If implemented, such a requirement would likely cause a jump in prices, thereby reducing the retail market for these sets. Manufacturers relied on the original FCC mandate in their product planning, and need a minimum of 18 to 24 months to plan, develop and deploy new equipment.

"An accelerated tuner mandate could force some manufacturers who determine that it is not feasible to meet the new regulations (and fear inability to comply with the FCC's regulations) to move to tuner-less sets or to stop manufacturing altogether the TV models which cannot be fitted with digital tuners—which many manufacturers are reluctant to do. This also would defeat the purpose of the tuner mandate itself."

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