FCC Hits Retailers for DTV Violations

Sears leads the parade of big-box stores charged with not properly labeling analog-only TV sets.

Big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart, Sears, Target and Circuit City, drew $3.9 million in fines from the Federal Communications Commission April 9 for failing to properly label television sets that won't receive digital signals. Sears and its subsidiary, Kmart, were hit with the largest fine at $1.1 million.

Broadcasters are set to switch to digital signals Feb. 17, 2009, as part of the digital television transition. In May 2007, the FCC dictated that retailers place consumer alert labels near television sets that receive only analog signals.

In addition to Sears' fine, Wal-Mart was tagged with a $992,000 penalty while Circuit City is facing a $712,000 fine. Best Buy was charged with a $280,000 fine. Without a digital converter box or a cable/satellite connection, analog-only television sets will be unable to receive digital signals from broadcasters.

"The Commission's DTV-related enforcement efforts have focused on protecting consumers from unknowingly buying televisions that will not allow consumers to enjoy the full benefits of the digital transition," the FCC said in a statement. "The orders demonstrate the Commission's commitment to strong enforcement in promoting the successful transition to digital television."

According to the FCC complaint, agents and investigators observed a number of different models of television-receiving equipment having only an analog-only tuner on display in 27 Kmart stores, the Sears Roebuck Web site and 16 Sears Roebuck stores, without the required consumer alert labels. Sears had previously received 20 citations for similar conduct.

"Based on the evidence before us, we find that Sears apparently willfully and repeatedly violated ...the rules by failing to display conspicuously and in close proximity to equipment with an analog-only tuner, in clear and conspicuous print, the required Consumer Alert label," the FCC said in its order.

After giving Wal-Mart a reasonable opportunity to respond to original citations, the FCC began inspecting numerous additional Wal-Mart stores June 14, 2007, and found violations in 51 stores and the Sam's Club Web site.