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ATVA Fears New ATSC 3.0 Royalty Payment Retrans Boost

The American Television Alliance—which has been battling broadcasters over retrans reforms—doesn't want the FCC moving too quickly on letting those broadcasters roll out the ATSC 3.0 advanced TV standard, saying it should put the broadcasters proposal out for comment first and citing issues like MVPDs potentially having to pay royalties for retransmitting new signals through new retrans arrangements

That is according to a filing on a meeting last week between ATVA representatives and Media Bureau chief Bill Lake, as well as other top FCC staffers.

Among the ATVA members at the meeting were AT&T, Dish, Charter and the American Cable Association.

The National Association of Broadcasters and tech companies asked the FCC to let TV stations start rolling out the new standard on a voluntary basis in conjunction with the post incentive auction repack, pledging to simulcast while they did so (the standard is not compatible with current sets).

They wanted a decision by October, so they would likely argue the FCC has already not moved particularly rapidly.

But ATVA members said that given the many issues involved and potential viewer dislocation, the FCC should first issue a Notice of Inquiry, as it did with the DTV transition.

ATVA said that what was not voluntary were the viewers, MVPDs and subs having to get new equipment to receive the signals and the potential for MVPDs to pay new, per-sub patent royalties to retransmit them.

ATVA also raised the issue of retrans and added its familiar knock on fees.

"Any station group with sufficient leverage to compel carriage of unwanted programming or to raise consumer prices by 40% per year, possesses sufficient leverage to compel carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals as well—either directly or through 'standalone' offers that represent an obviously unreasonable alternative (e.g., a choice between carriage of both formats at $1.00 per subscriber and carriage of only ATSC 1.0 at $10 per subscriber," it said.

And in an issue evoking the DTV transition issue of downconverting HDTV to standard res, ATVA says: "We understand the petition as contemplating that MVPDs would actually provide an ATSC 3.0 signal in ATSC 3.0 format to their subscribers, rather than 'downconverting' such signals to an ATSC 1.0-compatible format. Is this understanding correct," adding: "Should MVPDs be allowed to downconvert ATSC 3.0 signals?"

While broadcasters want the FCC green light, ATVA concludes a flashing yellow is the way to go.

"The Commission should ensure that it fully understands the ramifications of these changes before it acts—especially in light of the ongoing work in ATSC itself," they told Lake and company. "A Notice of Inquiry represents the best way forward."

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.