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CE Manufacturers Sweating DTV Labeling Deadline

Washington — Consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers attending the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Washington Forum Wednesday were sweating over recently expanded FCC labeling requirements for digital televisions and related products that were scheduled to come due March 31, 2008.

Pressured by federal legislators concerned over potentially inadequate digital television education initiatives prior to the analog TV broadcasting cutoff date next February, the FCC quietly added to the federal register a “DTV Education Order” three weeks ago that expanded TV labeling (or notice) requirements beyond analog-only models to include most digital television products and source devices.

Among other things the requirements call for TV set manufacturers to add labels on or inside product boxes telling purchasers that the device either includes or doesn’t include a digital television tuner, as the case may be, and therefore will receive or will not receive over-the-air digital TV broadcasts before and after Feb. 17, 2009.

The rules also specified that digital displays that lack tuners are to include labels notifying buyers that the displays (or monitors) will require an add-on tuner, or multi-channel television service tuner/decoder to receive digital content.

In addition, as part of an earlier mandate other products such as DVD recorders are to include labels notifying purchasers that the products either include or lack digital tuners.

However, some manufacturers polled by TWICE at the Forum were concerned the proposed language of the labels was potentially confusing, that the implementation was too sudden and the language of the ruling could be interpreted to impose its deadline on products already in the pipeline, which would force affixing labels to boxes already in the field. In addition, some worried the language could be interpreted to include source devices that never would have included TV tuners, such as video gaming consoles, camcorders and DVD players.

Sources here told TWICE that CEA representatives have been working with manufacturers and the FCC to clarify and potentially remedy some of the concerns. Many believed that the FCC would come through with a 30-day implementation period to give manufacturers a better chance to comply.

“We have asked the FCC to grant an extension of at least 30 days to allow manufacturers the time to prepare the necessary materials to comply with the education order. It is our hope that should the FCC be unable to act to grant an extension that at minimum it will forebear enforcement of its rules to give manufacturers that necessary time period,” said Jason Oxman, CEA industry affairs senior VP. “The education requirements impose a labeling obligation on the manufacturers. We have proposed to the FCC in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Retail Coalition (CERC) specific draft language that would clarify what the FCC wants in those labels, but also would clarify the specific types of products that the FCC seeks to reach with its rules. It is our understanding that the FCC desires to impose an education labeling obligation on equipment that includes television tuners and that is used by consumers to watch broadcast television programming.”

Oxman said the CEA and CERC proposal to the FCC includes specific language they feel fulfills the intent of the Commission’s order to educate consumers about what steps if any they need to take to continue enjoying free over-the-air broadcast television after Feb. 17, 2009. He added the FCC was notified about the nature of the product supply chain for DTVs and that products that have already entered that supply chain are in many cases outside of a manufacturer’s control and are no longer amenable to inclusion of those materials.