Asking FCC to reconsider three pieces of its Next-Gen TV authorization

WASHINTON—The American Television Alliance (ATVA) has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider three aspects or its November 2017 order authorizing broadcasters to begin transmitting ATSC 3.0 signals.

Specifically, the petition, filed March 5, asks the FCC to reconsider its decisions:

  • Not to require separate negotiations for first-time MVPD carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals;
  • To permit low-power and translator stations to flash-cut to ATSC 3.0; and
  • To allow broadcasters to degrade their signals without first warning viewers and MVPDs.

The ATVA petition argues that if the transition to ATSC 3.0 is “to be truly ‘voluntary’ for all parties,” carriage of Next-Gen TV signals should not be obtained “by threatening existing television service.”

[ATSC 3.0 Marches On]

“We believe that the best and most effective way to prevent broadcasters from engaging in such conduct is to require separate negotiations for first-time carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals,” the petition said.

ATVA previously predict this situation based on what it described as “broadcasters’ demonstrated conduct” under different circumstances, such as the forced bundling of unwanted programming. Since then, there have been “a handful of cases” in which broadcasters began doing so even before the ATSC 3.0 authorization order was released, it said.

Some MVPDs already “have been forced to grant ‘ATSC 3.0 MFNs [most favored nation status]’ for a technology that is not yet commercially available,” the petition added.

Regarding low-power and TV translator flash-cutting to ATSC 3.0, the ATVA has “never agreed with the notion of exempting” these stations from the requirement to simulcast ATSC 1.0 and 3.0,” the petition said. Doing so “causes exactly the same harm as does allowing full-power station to flash cut,” according to ATVA.

ATVA argued that narrow waivers are a better way to address low-power concerns with simulcasting “than a broad, class-based exemption” and that “narrow waivers of the simulcasting coverage requirement would address nearly every reason” given to exempt these stations from the simulcast mandate, it said.

One circumstance “appears unamenable to relief” offered by coverage requirement waivers, however, the petition noted. It involves situations in which a low-power station is displaced in the repack and forced to build both ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 facilities, it said.

“Even here, however, a broad exemption for all low power stations is not required,” it said, adding that individual waivers of the simulcasting requirement is a better option.

As relates to degrading the broadcast signal without warning, ATVA acknowledges that no current FCC rule prevents a broadcaster from dropping HD service in favor of SD. “Yet, in the normal course, broadcasters have wanted to transmit in high-definition and had no incentive to cease doing so,” the petition said.

[HPA Panel Examines Road to ATSC 3.0 and Repack]

However, as broadcasters transitioning to ATSC 3.0 are required to simulcast, they will have “a new and specific incentive to degrade their signals.” Broadcasters “have insisted throughout this proceeding that they must be able to do so in order for the ATSC3.0 transition to succeed,” the petition said.

ATVA described the ATSC 3.0 transition as a “special case” and called for the FCC to “insist on simple notification rules corresponding to the unique circumstances presented.”

Dennis Wharton, EVP, Communications at NAB, downplayed the ATVA petition. “The cable industry is trotting out the same arguments the FCC already rejected,” said Wharton. “It’s no secret broadcast industry innovation is great for consumers, but bad for cable. So it’s no surprise they continue to oppose a competing industry’s willingness to invest in its product.”

Editor’s note: All emphasis (italicized text) is the ATVA’s.

For a comprehensive list of TV Technology’s ATSC 3.0 coverage, see our ATSC3 silo.