ATSC 3.0 Decision Draws Some Critics

Broadcasters scored a big win in the FCC's proposed framework for the roll out of the ATSC 3.0 next gen transmission standard when the FCC rejected a request by MVPDs and others to carve out the new signals from retrans negotiations for ATSC 1.0 signals, which must be simulcast along side the new signals. But that victory was not drawing raves from some inside the Beltway.

Michael Calabrese, who heads the Wireless Future Project at the Open Technology Institute(OTI), was not happy with the FCC's decision not to exclude ATSC 3.0 carriage from being bundled into retrans.

“Like the 2009 DTV transition, when Congress protected consumers, we are relieved to see the FCC’s proposed order will ensure that households relying on over-the-air reception will continue to receive most local stations on their existing DTV sets for an indefinite period," he said, but...

"Consumer advocates are concerned that the FCC is not proposing to constrain the ability of powerful broadcast groups to force Next Gen TV services onto cable and satellite systems," he said.

"This is likely to raise prices for cable customers by a large but unknown amount and only serves to pad the pockets of broadcasters at consumers’ expense.

He was also troubled by the potential benefits to Sinclair, which has a handful of ATSC 3.0 patents, as well as being a huge proponent of the standard.

"It is troubling that the Sinclair Broadcast Group benefits more than anyone from FCC approval of ATSC 3.0 as proposed, thanks to patent royalties and the leverage it gives them to demand higher retransmission consent fees that cable companies pass along to consumers.”

Jonathan Schwantes at Consumer's Union shared that sentiment following the FCC's circulation of the ATSC 3.0 draft order.

"While we are encouraged by the Order, concerns remain that consumers could face higher fees from cable providers passing on the cost of the new signal in the future," he said. "We urge the FCC to put consumers first as they move forward on this transition, and work to ensure that consumers aren’t left paying the price for this transition.”

"Broadcasters are quick to highlight the consumer benefits of Next Gen TV, like improved picture quality, enhanced emergency alerts, and delivery to mobile devices," he said. "But the proposed transition to ATSC 3.0 also has the potential to burden consumers and stick them with higher costs."

OTI is funded by, among many others, Microsoft, Google, and even the State Department.

The draft order on ATSC 3.0 was circulated this week and is scheduled to be voted on Nov. 16.

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.