ACA to Hill: ATSC 3.0 Rollout Could Hurt Emergency Alerts

The American Cable Association is telling Congress that the new next-gen broadcast standard could potentially hurt, not help, emergency alerts.

That came in a letter to the chair and ranking members of the House Communications Subcommittee—Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), respectively—from American Cable Association president Matt Polka in advance of a May 17 hearing on emergency alerts.

One of the advantages broadcasters have been pointing to with the ATSC 3.0 interactive transmission standard is more targeted alerts and even being able to wake a sleeping TV to alert its owners of possible danger.

Polka concedes there could be benefits but also tells the legislators that "the proposed transition to the new broadcast standard may well harm emergency alerting."

Polka points out that the new ATSC 3.0 standard is not backward compatible, and so does not work with current sets. He points to some recent comments by broadcasters that their need not be a simulcast requirement—broadcasters argue that it is in their interests to insure viewers have access to their signals.

Polka says that is unacceptable, and it might prove to be in a station's economic interest not to simulcast, even if that means some viewers would not get alerts.

And even if broadcasters commit to simulcasting, Polka says they need to reach all viewers, which he said the initial broadcaster simulcast proposal does not guarantee.

"The subcommittee should take the time to consider the ways in which the proposal as now formulated could disrupt emergency alerts," he said.

“ACA’s silly rhetoric opposing broadcasters’ transitioning to Next Gen TV is typical of an industry that abhors competition," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "The idea that broadcasters would adopt a new transmission system that diminishes our emergency alerting capabilities does not pass the laugh test.  Broadcasters take seriously our role as ‘first informers’, and we are absolutely confident that Next Gen TV will improve public safety and save lives.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.