RealTime IT News

FCC Expedites DTV Tuner Mandates

With an eye on Congress's newfound urge to end analog broadcasting by 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday ordered all television sets sold in the United States contain digital receivers by no later than March 1, 2007.

The FCC is implementing the digital television (DTV) tuner requirement on a schedule that applies it first to large-screen receivers and then to progressively smaller screens and other devices that receive TV signals, such as VCRs and digital video recorders.

The phase-in plan is intended to allow manufacturers to realize increasing economies of scale with production volume, so that digital tuner costs will be lower when the tuners are required in smaller sets.

Under FCC order, all television sets 36 inches or larger already come with built-in digital tuners.

Also at its November open meeting, the FCC launched an inquiry into whether agency action is needed to ensure local franchising authorities (LFAs) do not "unreasonably refuse" to award cable franchises to competitive entrants. An example is Verizon and SBC's plans to roll out Internet Protocol television (IPTV).

"We are hearing from some providers that local authorities may be making the process of getting franchises unreasonably difficult," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said. "New video entrants, regardless of the technology they employ, should be encouraged, not impeded from entry."

The Cable Act of 1992 specifically prohibits LFAs from granting exclusive franchises and from unreasonably refusing to award additional competitive franchises. However, both Verizon and SBC have complained that seeking a video franchise in every market will take years.

The phone giants, who hope to take on the cable companies offering bundles of voice, data and video, want to pay a single state franchising fee to expedite the process.

"Today's action by the FCC will expose how the cable companies use the franchising process to keep competitors out of the market," James C. Smith, a senior vice president at SBC, said in a statement. "Without that competition, consumers face continual annual price hikes from the dominant cable companies, now up 40 percent over the past five years."

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) President Matthew J. Flanigan added in a statement that the time was right for FCC action.

"Video competition across multiple platforms is beginning to usher in a new wave of investment in next-generation broadband networks and innovative choices for consumers," Flanigan said.

"To continue and expedite this trend, however, any and all roadblocks should be removed so that current and future competitors have the opportunity to compete in the broadband video marketplace."