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Editorial: Raising the Standard

Broadcasters and cable operators continued their war of words at the FCC over the new ATSC 3.0 standard. Broadcasters say the regulator’s watchword should be flexibility, which means no simulcasting mandates, prohibitions on temporary use of extra spectrum or requirements that ATSC 3.0 carriage negotiations be walled off from retransmission deals.

Cable operators counter that the FCC needs to lay out clear rules of the road — otherwise broadcasters will use ATSC 3.0 to boost the undue leverage cable operators say they already have in retransmission, costing multichannel video programming distributors time and money, while broadcasters experiment with the new transmission system.

In the interests of airing both sides, here are edited excerpts from the broadcaster-backed advanced TV consortium and the principal cable trade group.

From an FCC filing by the Pearl TV consortium of broadcasters: Next Generation TV will provide a variety of public-service benefits to different important populations. It will offer interactive educational children’s content, robust emergency alerting services, improved accessibility measures and dramatic visual enhancements.

And the commission’s proposal of a voluntary adoption of this new standard is a quintessential example of how “light-touch” regulation can encourage technological progress and value creation … without disrupting relied-upon service to viewers.

The commission has the opportunity to introduce these benefits in a voluntary manner, requiring little government oversight …

The commission should not seek to regulate the content of simulcast streams. Broadcasters have every incentive to ensure continuity of coverage for all of their viewers.

It baffles the mind that major MVPDs seek to complicate this proceeding by urging for more government regulation, complicating what could be a market-based, simple agency rule with unnecessary and unjustified regulatory complexity.

From NCTA-The Internet & Television Association: Certain broadcasters filing in this proceeding urge the commission to grant them maximum flexibility to roll out ATSC 3.0 with little apparent concern for the real-world consequences.

Leaving a transition of this potential magnitude to the whims of individual broadcasters would fail to effectively protect the public interest. The ATSC 3.0 standard, by design, is generally incompatible with equipment used by cable systems and consumers today. It cannot coexist with broadcasters’ existing transmissions, and its launch will necessitate a significant reshuffling of signals from station to station. As a result, as detailed in the record, the burdens and costs to cable operators and to consumers could be significant if the introduction of ATSC 3.0 is not accompanied by appropriate rules of the road.

Contrary to the claims of certain broadcast filers, objections to providing them with unbridled flexibility are not intended to prevent broadcasters from innovating. Rather, absent appropriate safeguards, existing broadcast television service could easily suffer while broadcasters experiment with their new transmission method. This is particularly true since some proponents of ATSC 3.0 are now balking at complying with even the most basic obligation — the need to continue to transmit a viewable ATSC 1.0 signal to the areas they are licensed to serve.

Under the circumstances, robust simulcasting rules that protect consumers from disruption and degradation of service are critically important.