Court Upholds Mandate for DTV Tuners

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A government mandate requiring TV makers to phase in DTV tuners in most of their sets passed muster with federal judges Tuesday.

The federal appeals court in Washington upheld a 2002 FCC decision that the potential benefit of speeding the transition to DTV outweighed the costs the tuner mandate would impose on manufacturers and consumers.

"We will not second-guess the commission’s weighing of costs and benefits," the court said.

The Consumer Electronics Association challenged the FCC rule on grounds that the commission had no authority to impose the tuner requirement and failed to adequately measure the hike in set prices that would be incurred.

But the judges agreed with the FCC that the tuner mandate was a reasonable exercise under the 1962 All Channel Receiver Act, which required all sets to accommodate UHF signals. Though, FCC estimates showing tuner prices falling below $15 once production ramps up are "hardly a model of thorough consideration," the judges said.

But given the lack of reliable data, they found the FCC numbers meet the "minimum standard for reasoned decision making." The CEA argued that high patent fees being charged by Zenith will prevent tuner prices from falling that low.

The FCC ruled last year that 50% of 36-inch sets capable of receiving analog signals also must include DTV receivers by July 1, 2004 and 100% a year later. All such sets 13-inches and larger must have DTV tuners by July 1, 2007.

The mandate was imposed to staunch the proliferation of analog-only sets and to bring closer the day when 85% of TV households are equipped to receive digital channels from their local broadcasters-the trigger to reclaim analog TV spectrum in a market.

National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts praised the court’s decision. "Consumers buying TV sets will know that the receivers they buy will continue to receive all broadcast signals, even as broadcasting changes to digital," he said.

"The court has upheld a key component of our digital television transition plan," said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

"We obviously are disappointed," said CEA chief of technology policy Michael Petricone. He said it was too early to say if the group will seek review by the Supreme Court. "Needless to say we will be compliant with any final court order."

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