Public Broadcasters Ask FCC For Simulcast Exemption

WASHINGTON—Public television is seeking an exemption for noncommercial educational licensees from the ATSC 1.0-3.0 simulcast mandate that’s part of the FCC’s November 2017 authorization of over-the-air transmission of Next-Gen TV.

Representatives from America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service met with the media advisor in the office of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai April 26 to make the appeal.

The group, collectively called "PTV,: told the FCC that the exemption is “warranted and essential” because of the unique mission, structure, governance, finance, history, geographic layout and regulatory treatment of noncommercial educational stations.

“The regulatory certainty of an exemption will ensure that PTV stations can invest confidently in their futures knowing that they will be able to serve their local communities in innovative ways based on their unique needs and circumstances,” the group said in a document filed with the commission regarding the meeting.

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The group told the FCC that “the driving purpose” of PTV stations is to serve the public in their local communities. In 19 states, that means a PTV station serves its entire state regardless of DMA boundaries. Often such stations, like WIIQ in Demopolis, Ala., are “sited far from any potential simulcasting partners,” the document said.

Similarly, 57 university licensees are located at their parent institution, such as WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., and are far away from possible simulcast partners. In 89 instances, licensees serve “some of the most rural, remote, and isolated parts of the country,” such as KAWE in Bemidji, Minn., “where commercial counterparts often do not exist,” the document said.

While the PTV group asked for the exemption, it told the agency that licensees “have no interest, and nothing to gain, in leaving their viewers behind.”

PTV stations along with their community advisor will examine many factors “to determine when it is appropriate and in the communities’ best interests to transition to ATSC 3.0,” the document said. They include items, such as surveys of dual-mode receiver penetration in communities, voluntary MVPD ATSC 3.0 adoption and the availability of low-cost converter devices.

Not only would the exemption make it possible for PTV to leverage the many benefits of ATSC 3.0 to better serve the public, but it also will give the 43 percent of public stations that will be repacked –many of which are in rural locations—the confidence “to make supplemental out-of-pocket investments” in equipment with ATSC 3.0 capabilities. Similarly, those that aren’t being repacked but are working with ageing gear can confidently plan for Next-Gen TV as they replace their infrastructure, it said.

The document reminded the agency that PTV stations receive most of their revenue from individual donations and “therefore have every incentive to closely align their transition to the Next Generation standard with their audience’s needs and capabilities.” 

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

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.