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Broadcasters, Cable Operators Battle Over ATSC 3.0

Related: Auction Inaction

Broadcasters’ push for a new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard has led to a shoving match with a familiar old foe, the American Television Alliance (ATVA).

ATVA and the National Association of Broadcasters have long been battling over retransmission consent, with broadcasters winning a big victory after FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and company chose not to expand the definition of bad faith negotiations to include retrans blackouts/impasses or collecting negotiations.

But ATVA—whose members include cable and satellite operators—has opened a new front, telling the FCC to go slow on the ATSC standard because it may lead to a new retrans payment, with subs potentially having to pay even more at the multichannel video programming distributor pump.

“By endorsing a nationwide change in the way we broadcast television, the FCC would be imposing an unfunded mandate on U.S. consumers, as well as cable and satellite providers who are required by law to carry local broadcast TV signals due to ‘must carry’ or retransmission consent agreements, regardless of how they’re delivered to them by broadcasters,” the ATVA told the FCC in comments.

Related: VidAngel Cited for Playing ‘Cut and Run’

Broadcasters last April petitioned the FCC to allow them to roll out the standard, on a voluntary basis, at the same time they are moving to new channels in the post-incentive auction repack—assuming the auction doesn’t crater due to wireless companies’ apparent lack of interest in large swaths of spectrum at broadcasters’ price points (see story at right).

Cable operators pushed back a bit at the time, pointing out that the transition affected them too, but ATVA essentially started a new campaign with the patent fee issue tied to potentially higher cable bills, which Washington never likes to hear.

The NAB was ready to rumble over the ATVA position. In a blog post, NAB associate general counsel Patrick McFadden said ATVA is “slow-rolling innovation to protect pay-TV providers from competition. If ATVA can stall approval of Next Gen TV, you won’t have a free over-the-air option for ultra-high-definition programming. ATVA’s members will be the only game in town. That ought to keep the checks rolling in!”

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.