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

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