FCC Fines for Analog-Only TV Sales

People are getting serious about the February 17, 2009 cut-off for analog over-the-air television broadcasts. The FCC has started taking money from retailers for failing to inform buyers adequately about the limitations of some of the sets that they sell.

As of earlier this year, stores were not allowed to import televisions that do not have a digital tuner. (It’s still okay to sell displays that have no tuner at all, such as a computer monitor.) If a television device has an analog tuner, then it has to have a digital tuner as well. The FCC left retailers an out, however, so that they could sell any remaining inventory of analog-only sets. They could sell these products, but only if there is a prominent display “in close proximity” to the set explaining its limitations. If you’ve browsed the Web much for older televisions, you’re sure to have seen these disclaimers.

A bunch of retailers failed spot checks, and were fined $8,000 fines per model per store. Fred Meyer and Ultimate Electronics got hit with three fines apiece ($24,000), and Radio Shack was fined $16,000 for two incidents. A couple of other stores were fined for single infractions.

This is actually pretty remarkable. Out of all the thousands of stores, the FCC found fewer than a dozen violations. It would appear that the industry has been doing a good job of marking these older analog-only sets. And Best Buy has taken a high ground approach; they have announced that they won’t sell any analog-only sets at all.

Be sure to keep this whole issue in perspective. If you’ve got cable or satellite service, you don’t need a tuner in your television at all. You only need a tuner if you get broadcast programming from local television stations. The major stations are already broadcasting in digital format as well as analog, and there are significant benefits to getting digital signals, but you can still get analog signals if you choose. And starting early next year, you will be able to get a $40 rebate from the US government to help pay for a converter box that will allow your analog set to receive digital signals. (Wait until later in 2008 to buy one of these boxes, as I expect the street price to fall to $50 or less before the end of the year.) So even if you have an analog set now, or want to get a great deal on an analog-only set, you don’t have to worry about it “going dark” a year from now.