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Circuit City wants out of digital TV fines

/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal regulators should throw out fines imposed against Circuit City Stores for violating rules regarding next year's switch from analog to digital television, the consumer electronics retailer said in a filing Tuesday.

The Federal Communications Commission last month fined Circuit City, Wal-Mart Stores, Best Buy, and other retailers a combined $3.9 million for failing to properly label that analog-only televisions will need to be retrofitted after the switch to digital TV.

In a filing to the FCC, the Richmond based company said its $712,000 in fines should be eliminated or reduced to nothing because the FCC lacks jurisdiction to enforce the rule to keep consumers from buying TV equipment that won't work without a converter box after the digital switch by Feb. 17, 2009.

Circuit City also said public comment was never heard on the FCC regulation that requires retailers to display or affix "consumer alert" labels to analog-only TV equipment — including TVs, DVDs, videocassette recorders and digital video recorders — that says it will not receive signals after the nationwide digital transition without a special converter box.

The company said that it tried to comply with the rule and its questioned actions were never "willful or repeated."

"Circuit City made extensive and good faith efforts to comply with this unprecedented regulation despite lack of notice or baseline for compliance," it said in the filing.

The FCC, which conducted numerous inspections last June, said it initially issued warnings to companies, whose stores and Web sites across the country were in violation of the rule. The agency said it gave each company "a reasonable opportunity" to respond.

After inspecting 2,272 retail stores and 36 Web sites, thee FCC said that it issued 349 citations, or warnings, to retailers for failing to comply with the labeling requirement.

Circuit City said in its filing that it also found errors in the work done by inspectors and the citations issued by the FCC.

The FCC also handed down $2.7 million in fines to other companies for violating other digital TV rules that involve shipping analog equipment and blocking technologies such as the V-chip.

The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group whose members include Circuit City and Best Buy, said late last year that more than 50 percent of U.S. households now own a digital TV and expect nearly 32 million digital TVs will be shipped this year.

The federal government this year launched a $1.5 billion coupon program to help defray cost of converter boxes for viewers of analog sets that rely on antennas to watch TV. Each U.S. household is entitled to get two $40 coupons.