The Federal Communications Commission on June 9 moved up its deadline requiring TV set manufacturers to produce sets capable of receiving digital signals.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) - The Federal Communications Commission on June 9 moved up its deadline requiring TV set manufacturers to produce sets capable of receiving digital signals.

On a 4-0 vote, the commission moved up the deadline for set makers to include tuners for both digital and analog signals on televisions from 25-36 inches by four months. As a result, sets sold in the United States must include the tuners by March.

The commission also proposed moving the deadline for all small TVs to have digital tuners from July 1, 2007, to the end of 2006. It plans to vote on that question later after it receives comments from the public.

A dearth of TV sets capable of receiving digital signals has been considered a major impediment to transition from traditional analog TV to digital. In 1997, Congress required broadcasters to shut off their analog signals by the end of 2006, or when 85% of the homes have a digital TV.

"We need to push the transition to its conclusion as expeditiously as possible," Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy said. "While I am sympathetic to the claims that requiring only 50% compliance will cause some unanticipated problems in the marketplace, the proposed delay simply would exact too great a cost on the overall progress of the DTV transition."

In 2002, the FCC required that half the medium-sized TVs sold in the U.S. must include digital tuners and that all sets have to include them by July 2007.

But the Consumer Electronics Assn. and Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition contend that the transition to digital television has been slowed by the deadline for half the medium-sized TVs to have digital capability.

Retailers have been ordering more of those models from manufacturers and fewer of the more expensive, digital-ready models, expecting consumers to buy more non-digital televisions because they're less expensive, the CEA argued.

Although conceived as a phase-in for the benefit of manufacturers and retailers, in reality the 50% requirement creates uncertainty in the marketplace and slows the ramping up of volume production necessary to bring costs down, the CEA said in a statement.

Set makers also warned the commission that speeding up the deadline for all sets could backfire.

"The unfortunate result of accelerating the tuner mandate deadlines for all sets would be to decrease the number of DTV tuners in the marketplace, which clearly does not serve the transition," CEA president Gary Shapiro said. "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, tunerless alternatives."

Broadcasters, however, commended the commission. The National Assn. of Broadcasters said eliminating the 50% requirement would delay the transition to digital TV by guaranteeing the sale of more televisions that receive only analog signals.

"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/CEO Edward O. Fritts said. "We salute Chairman [Kevin] Martin and other FCC commissioners for accelerating the original tuner schedule, and we strongly support the proposal to move up DTV tuner compliance for smaller TV sets. Allowing set manufacturers to continue selling analog-only TV sets only elongates the transition to digital."