Broadcasters say FCC 'Dangerously Underestimates' Public's Stake in OTA TV

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association of Maximum Service Television, Inc. (MSTV) filed reply comments in FCC Media Bureau Docket 04-210, a Notice of Inquiry that sought comment on over-the-air (OTA) TV viewing and how to minimize the impact on these viewers when analog TV is shut down. In the reply comments, NAB and MSTV said that television coverage of Hurricane Charley saved lives, and noted that over-the-air television remains "the single most important information safety net for all Americans in times of crisis, local or national.

"Other commenters emphasize this. Many commenters have provided the Bureau with substantial data on OTA viewers and particularly for those in the OTA-only analog homes who would lose all television service absent sufficient planning and adequate solutions in place well in advance."

NAB/MSTV cited several comments filed showing "the enormity of the eventual problem of the remaining OTA-only analog households, as well as for MVPD consumers with OTA analog sets, were analog broadcasting terminated in the near future." Research commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting found that about 20 percent of the U.S. households were "broadcast-only," noting that even among the largest DMAs, OTA reception approaches 30 percent in three large DMAs, over 25 percent in two others, and 20 percent in Los Angeles. Disney/ABC commented that in New York, 29.1 percent of the viewers it had surveyed "rely in whole or in part on over-the-air service, while in Los Angeles 37.7 percent rely in whole or in part on OTA service."

In a section titled "The Thrust Of The Notice Dangerously Underestimates The Public's Stake In Over-The-Air Television," NAB and MSTV point to the comments from individual consumers who do not want to be subscribe to MVPD (i.e. cable and satellite TV multichannel video program distributors) services. One commenter said, "undefinedn a free society, it is absolutely essential to provide a mechanism of mass communication that does not limit public access by charging a monthly subscription fee" and another commenter laments that he is forced to subscribe to a pay television service because he lives in a rural area, pointing out that the Notice failed to request information about "MVPD subscribers who would prefer not to be... [and] [t]he cost and ongoing increases for MVPD services."

NAB/MSTV's reply comments said the FCC must take into account three components of the public interest served by over the air TV. The first component is the 18.9 percent of viewers relying solely on over-the-air service, either due to cost or lack of an MVPD service with local TV, or "because they believe in the universal availability of free, over-the-air broadcast service." The second component is the millions of analog-only TV sets in MVPD homes that rely on OTA reception. NAB/MSTV said the third component consists of all viewers, "because all viewers rely on over-the-air service in times of weather, terrorist or other emergencies when cable or satellite service may not be available and because broadcast television service provides an effective competitive check on cable and DBS services in terms of price, service, and diversity."

The reply comments cautioned, "the critical importance of OTA analog television service to viewers should not be overlooked by the Commission when reviewing Motorola's call in this proceeding for an early date certain to the digital transition and the early clearing of television operations from the 700 MHz spectrum where TV channels 62-65 and 67-69 operate, to enable deployment of nationwide public safety systems in that band," warning, "It would be ironic indeed if public safety concerns were the cause of the loss of critical emergency information for viewers relying on television for health and welfare information, not to mention other important news."

NAB and MSTV reiterated that inexpensive digital-to-analog converters, and a government subsidy (potentially paid for from revenues from future spectrum auctions), "seem to be key to accommodate those who cannot afford a true digital television when analog broadcasting is ended." It also said the FCC should adopt policies that will foster a true digital transition, stating, "Paramount among those policies is cable carriage of digital broadcast signals, and, as well, eventual satellite carriage of digital broadcast signals under 'carry-one/carry-all.'"

Additional information can be found in the full text of the Reply Comments of NAB and MSTV in the Matter of Over-The-Air Television Viewers. Also see the June 2, 2004 RF Report for details on the FCC Notice of Inquiry, the August 3, 2004 RF Report for information CEA's comments, and the August 17, 2004 RF Report for details on NAB/MSTV's initial comments.