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TVs to Be Able to Receive Digital Signals

October 29, 2003

All but the smallest new televisions will have to be able to receive digital TV signals by July 2007 under a government rule upheld by a federal appeals court on Tuesday.

The makers of TVs, VCRs and DVD players tried to block the Federal Communications Commission rule, saying it would make sets more expensive and was unnecessary because cable and satellite viewers don't need the tuners.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the FCC, which said the requirement was needed because the industry was not moving quickly enough to make tuners available.

The tuners will be needed to receive over-the-air broadcasts after the nation switches from analog to digital signals. Congress has set a goal of December 2006 for the change.

Circuit Judge John G. Roberts wrote that despite the timeline, the FCC had found that ``a logjam was blocking the development of digital TV.''

``Broadcasters are unwilling to provide more DTV programming because most viewers do not own DTV equipment, and the lack of attractive DTV programming makes consumers reluctant to invest in more DTV equipment,'' he wrote.

The FCC, which adopted the rule last year, sought to ensure that anyone who should buy a TV after December 2006 could take it home, plug it in and receive local stations without subscribing to a cable service or buying an extra tuner box for digital signals.

In addition to improved pictures and sound, digital television offers a range of new possibilities to broadcasters, such as sending multiple programs over the same channel or offering video games, the Internet and other interactive services.

The main initial beneficiaries of digital television are the 15 percent of TV owners who still receive their shows through antennas. They will get improved reception, with no more fuzzy pictures.

For cable and satellite subscribers, the greatest benefit is likely to be high-definition television, or HDTV, which offers better picture quality but requires a special TV. The sets cost from about $800 to thousands of dollars, though prices are dropping.

Eddie Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, called the court decision a milestone toward completing the DTV transition.

``Consumers buying TV sets will know that the receivers they buy will continue to receive all broadcast signals, even as broadcasting changes to digital,'' Fritts said.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which challenged the rule, contended it would boost the cost of TV sets by about $200. The FCC has said the increase was more likely to fall between $50 and $75, an estimate the appeals court found reasonable.

Association spokesman Michael Petricone said broadcasters need to do more to promote their digital television offerings and tell viewers about the improved quality of reception with TV antennas.

``Now that the mandate is in force, it's essential that consumers have HDTV to watch and that they know how to access it,'' Petricone said.

The first phase of the tuner requirement begins next year, when half of all TV sets 36 inches or larger are required to have the tuners. By July 1, 2007, all TVs 13 inches or larger and all VCRs and DVD players must meet the new standard.