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FCC fines retailers over DTV violations

Big retailers get hit with fines for not properly labeling that analog-only TVs will need special tuners when TV broadcasters switch to all digital transmission next year.

The Federal Communications Commission slapped heavy fines on several retailers Thursday for failing to properly label analog TVs that will have to be retrofitted next year for digital TV when broadcasters turn off their analog signals in February.

In total, the FCC levied fines of $3.9 million on big retailers such as Sears, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy. The agency also fined other companies roughly $2.7 million for violating other digital TV rules, such as shipping analog equipment and blocking technologies such as V-chip.

Sears Holding, which operates Sears and Kmart retail stores, was fined nearly $1.1 million for failing to label products properly. Wal-Mart was fined $992,000. Circuit City Stores got a $712,000 fine. Target, Best Buy, CompUSA and Fry's Electronics were all given fines as well.

In February 2009 TV broadcasters will vacate wireless spectrum used to broadcast analog TV signals. Instead broadcasters will transmit digital TV signals, which use spectrum more efficiently and provide better picture quality. The transition to digital means that some older TVs and TVs with analog-only tuners will have to be retrofitted to tune digital signals.

Most new TVs manufactured now are ready to handle digital broadcast. But there are some TVs that are being sold that only handle analog TV signals. Last May the FCC adopted a rule requiring retailers to put some kind of label or alert on analog-only products that tells consumers that it will not receive digital TV signals without a special converter box.

The rule is part of a wider effort by the FCC to provide a smooth transition for consumers. The agency has been working with broadcasters to help educate the public. And it's providing coupon vouchers for converter boxes that will allow people to use their older analog-only TVs.

For more information on the digital TV transition, check out an FAQ on CNET News.com. And if you're looking for a digital converter box, you can check out the CNET reviews of these devices.