Request for Comments Concerning Rule Relating To Power Output Claims for Amplifiers Utilized in Home Entertainment Products

Summary

The Federal Trade Commission (``Commission'') is requesting public comments on its Rule relating to Power Output claims for Amplifiers Utilized in Home Entertainment Products (``Amplifier Rule'' or ``Rule''). The Commission, as a part of its systematic review of all current Commission regulations and guides, is requesting comments about the overall costs and benefits of the Rule and its overall regulatory and economic impact. The Commission further seeks information about whether certain requirements of the Rule should be modified in light of technological and other changed circumstances. Lastly, the Commission requests information about issues involving amplified sound systems such as powered speakers for home computers and other home sound systems and sound amplifiers utilized in automobile entertainment products.

Full text

SUMMARY: The Federal Trade Commission (``Commission'') is requesting 
public comments on its Rule relating to Power Output claims for 
Amplifiers Utilized in Home Entertainment Products (``Amplifier Rule'' 
or ``Rule''). The Commission, as a part of its systematic review of all 
current Commission regulations and guides, is requesting comments about 
the overall costs and benefits of the Rule and its overall regulatory 
and economic impact. The Commission further seeks information about 
whether certain requirements of the Rule should be modified in light of 
technological and other changed circumstances. Lastly, the Commission 
requests information about issues involving amplified sound systems 
such as powered speakers for home computers and other home sound 
systems and sound amplifiers utilized in automobile entertainment 
products.

DATES: Written comments will be accepted until June 6, 1997.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be directed to: Secretary, Federal Trade 
Commission, Room H-159, Sixth and Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, 
DC 20580. Comments about the Amplifier Rule should be identified ``16 
CFR Part 432--Comments.''

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert E. Easton, Esq., Special 
Assistant, Division of Enforcement, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 
(202) 326-3029 or Dennis Murphy, Economist, Division of Consumer 
Protection, Bureau of Economics, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, 
DC 20580, (202) 326-3524.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Commission has determined, as part of 
its oversight responsibilities, to review its rules and guides 
periodically. These reviews seek information about the costs and 
benefits of the Commission's rules and guides and their regulatory and 
economic impact. The reviews also seek information on whether 
technological developments impact upon the rules. The information 
obtained assists the Commission in identifying rules and guides that 
warrant modification or rescission.

A. Background

    The Amplifier Rule was promulgated on May 3, 1974 (39 FR 15387), to 
assist consumers in purchasing power amplification equipment for home 
entertainment purposes by standardizing the measurement and disclosure 
of various performance characteristics of the equipment. Prior to the 
Rule, sellers were making power, distortion and other performance 
claims based on many different technical test procedures, or on no 
recognized test procedures. The Rule establishes uniform test standards 
and disclosures so that consumers can make more meaningful comparisons 
of performance attributes.
    The products within the scope of the Rule are defined as:

    Sound power amplification equipment manufactured or sold for 
home entertainment purposes, such as for example, radios, record and 
tape players, radio-phonograph and/or tape combinations, component 
audio amplifiers and the like.\1\

    \1\ 16 CFR 432.1.
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    The Rule makes it an unfair method of competition and an unfair or 
deceptive act or practice for manufacturers and sellers of sound power 
amplification equipment for home entertainment purposes to fail to 
disclose certain performance information in connection with direct or 
indirect representations of power output, power band, frequency or 
distortion characteristics.\2\
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    \2\ Id. at 432.2. The required disclosures relate to: Minimum 
sine wave continuous average power output; load impedance in Ohms; 
rated power band or frequency response; and rated percentage of 
maximum total harmonic distortion.
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    These disclosures must be made clearly, conspicuously and more 
prominently than any other representation or disclosures.\3\ The Rule 
also sets out standard test conditions for performing the measurements 
that support the required performance disclosures.\4\ Further, the Rule 
prohibits representations of performance characteristics if they are 
not obtainable when the equipment is operated by the consumer in the 
usual and ordinary manner without the use of extraneous aids,\5\ e.g., 
cooling fans.
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    \3\ Id.
    \4\ Id. at 432.3.
    \5\ Id. at 432.5.
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    When the Rule was promulgated in 1974, there were very few self-
amplified (powered) speakers for use with home computers or home 
entertainment systems or external amplifiers for home computers used 
for home entertainment purposes. In 1997, however, there are numerous 
and sophisticated systems of this nature. The Commission has 
tentatively determined that while such systems are not specifically 
mentioned in the Rule, such amplified (powered) speakers and other 
similar sound amplification equipment when used for home entertainment 
purposes are within the scope and purpose of the Rule. The Commission 
has further tentatively determined that such equipment falls within the 
definition used in the Rule and is sufficiently similar to the examples 
given in the Rule as to alert manufacturers and sellers of the 
coverage. The Commission, however, seeks additional information 
concerning its tentative determinations, and addresses several 
questions below to these issues.
    In 1974, amplified sound systems for automotive use were also in 
the formative stages of development. By 1997, such automotive amplified 
sound systems achieved a stage of technical sophistication on a par 
with many home entertainment sound amplification systems. Advertising 
for automotive sound amplification systems in recent years has often 
referred to the claimed power output (in watts) of the system using a 
variety of terms, including ``Peak Power,'' ``Total Power,'' and 
``RMS.'' Because the Commission wishes to learn whether the non-uniform 
disclosure of power output is resulting in consumer deception, 
confusion, and inability to make informed decisions, the Commission 
addresses several questions below to this issue. B. Issues for Comment

    At this time, the Commission solicits written public comments on 
the following questions:
    (1) Is there a continuing need for the Rule?
    (a) What benefits has the Rule provided to purchasers of the 
products or services affected by the Rule?
    (b) Has the Rule imposed costs on purchasers?
    (2) What changes, if any, should be made to the Rule to increase 
the benefits of the Rule to purchasers?
    (a) How would these changes affect the costs the Rule imposes on 
firms subject to its requirements?
    (3) What significant burdens or costs, including costs of 
compliance, has the Rule imposed on firms subject to its requirements?
    (a) Has the Rule provided benefits to such firms?
    (4) What changes, if any, should be made to the Rule to reduce the 
burdens or costs imposed on firms subject to its requirements?
    (a) How would these changes affect the benefits provided by the 
Rule?
    (5) Does the Rule overlap or conflict with other federal, state, or 
local laws or regulations?
    (6) Since the Rule was issued, what effects, if any, have changes 
in relevant technology or economic conditions had on the Rule?
    (7) The following questions relate to Sec. 432.3 of the Rule, which 
specifies standard test conditions for measuring continuous power:
    (a) Are there other widely used protocols for testing continuous 
power that could provide a satisfactory alternative to the Sec. 432.2 
requirements?
    (b) Given the problems that manufactures may experience with the 
test specifications in Sec. 432.3(c) requiring that amplifiers be 
preconditioned for one hour at one-third power, should there be any 
modifications to Sec. 432.3(c)?
    (8) The Rule currently requires disclosure of maximum harmonic 
distortion, power bandwidth, and impedance whenever a power claim is 
made in any advertising, including advertising by retail stores, direct 
mail merchants, and manufacturers.
    (a) Is there a continued need for the Rule to require disclosure of 
maximum rated harmonic distortion in media advertising, or should such 
disclosure be required only when maximum rated harmonic distortion 
exceeds a specified threshold level, such as one percent?
    (b) Should certain types of advertising, such as that commonly used 
by retail stores to present information on prices and basic features 
for numerous models of amplification equipment in a limited amount of 
print space, be exempted from some or all of the power bandwidth, 
distortion, and impedance disclosures?
    (c) If so, what developments have occurred that make these 
disclosures no longer necessary in such advertising?
    (d) If so, which of these disclosures should be exempted from such 
advertising and why?
    (e) Should any such exemptions be extended to advertising by direct 
mail resellers, who would not have retail outlets where consumers could 
obtain more detailed pre-purchase information on amplifier 
specifications?
    (9) The Rule currently governs power output claims relating to 
``sound power amplification equipment manufactured or sold for home 
entertainment purposes. . . .'' The Commission has tentatively 
concluded that the Rule covers (A) self-powered speakers for use with 
(i) home computers, (ii) home sound systems, and (iii) home multimedia 
systems; and (B) other sound power amplification equipment for home 
computers.
    (a) Are there any reasons why power output claims for such 
equipment should be considered outside the scope of the Rule? If so, 
please explain.
    (b) Are manufacturers and distributors of these products aware that 
these products are, as the Commission has tentatively determined, 
within the scope of the Rule? If not, is there a need for the 
Commission to undertake business and consumer education efforts to 
publicize the coverage?
    (c) Are the standard test conditions set out in the Rule 
appropriate for such equipment?
    (10) Current promotional materials and labeling for self-powered 
speakers and other sound amplification equipment for home computers 
systems contain power output claims expressed in a variety of terms, 
including ``Peak Power,'' ``Peak Music Output Power,'' ``Total Power,'' 
and ``RMS'' power.
    (a) What test protocols provide the basis for each of these power 
measurements?
    (b) How do power ratings obtained using these protocols compare 
with the power rating that would be obtained using the FTC continuous 
power output protocol?
    (c) Do power output claims in promotional material and labeling for 
such self-powered computer speakers rely on measurement methods other 
than those listed above?
    (d) How do any such power claims under (c) above compare with the 
corresponding FTC power output rating?
    (11) The Rule governs sound amplification equipment intended for 
home entertainment purposes. Thus, the Rule does not apply to 
automotive sound amplification products. Current promotional materials 
and labeling for automotive sound amplification equipment contain power 
output claims expressed in a variety of terms, including ``Peak 
Power,'' ``Total Power,'' and ``RMS'' power.
    (a) What test protocols provide the basis for each of these power 
measurements?
    (b) How do power ratings obtained using these protocols compare 
with the power rating that would be obtained using the FTC continuous 
power output protocol?
    (c) Do power output claims in promotional material and labeling for 
automotive stereo equipment rely on measurement methods other than 
those listed above?
    (d) How do any such power claims under (c) above compare with the 
corresponding FTC power output rating?
    (e) Do any of the sound power claims being made in connection with 
the sale and advertising of automotive sound amplification products 
inhibit meaningful comparisons of performance attributes by consumers? 
If so, please: (i) Identify any such claims and furnish copies of 
advertising and other material containing such claims, and (ii) supply 
information establishing how prevalent such claims are (i.e., how 
widespread and serious the problem is).
    (f) If there is a need to take action to increase the ability of 
consumers to make meaningful comparisons of performance characteristics 
for automotive sound amplification products, what is the most 
appropriate vehicle for accomplishing this goal (e.g., voluntary 
industry standards, consumer education, business education, industry/
government public workshops, amending the Amplifier Rule, etc.)?
    (g) Regardless of the method favored to improve consumers' ability 
to compare performance characteristics, would any of the Rule's current 
testing or disclosure requirements for home sound amplification 
products have to be modified for use with automotive sound 
amplification products due to any differences in technology, marketing 
considerations, or other reasons?

List of Subjects in 16 CFR Part 432

    Amplifiers; Home entertainment products; Trade practices.

    Authority: 15 U.S.C. 41-58. By Direction of the Commission.
Donald S. Clark,
Secretary.
[FR Doc. 97-8795 Filed 4-4-97; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6750-01-M  

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