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Tech Group Says Broadcasters Should Concentrate on Broadcasting ATSC 3.0

(Image credit: ATSC)

WASHINGTON—A D.C. thinktank told the FCC last week that if broadcasters want changes to ownership rules in order to allow them to market “broadcast internet” via ATSC 3.0, they’ll need to pay up. 

In a letter to the commission, Michael Calabrese of New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) said that while it generally supports the rollout of ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGen TV), a new proposal announced by FCC Commissioner Brenda Carr last month to revise rules to give broadcasters an opening to offer new streaming services or lease out spectrum to third parties should be carefully considered. ATSC 3.0 combines over-the-air broadcasting with IP, allowing broadcasters for the first time to offer streaming and other IP-based services to over-the-air viewers. 

Calabrese said that the proposal “suggests to us that the proceeding has little if anything to do with ATSC 3.0 services to consumers and everything to do with reconfiguring the rules to permit local TV stations to aggregate and lease their no-cost broadcast spectrum to mobile carriers or others who would compete with mobile carriers. 

“Nothing in the NPRM seems oriented to encouraging broadcast station licensees to use their spectrum to broadcast new services—ATSC 3.0 or otherwise—but instead seems oriented to pave the way for them to aggregate and lease out their spectrum to third parties likely to use it for 5G or other narrowband or broadband internet access services indistinguishable from services widely available using many other flexible-use bands of spectrum.”

OTI takes issue with two parts of the proposal. For one, the organization says the NPRM needs to better define the requirement that broadcasters have to continue to provide a minimum of one “standard definition signal” and whether such requirements stand up in an era when ATSC 3.0 promises resolutions of up to 4K.

“Although the Draft NPRM asks about the resolution that broadcasters today typically use for compliance, it should also explicitly ask whether standard definition should continue to qualify as ‘advanced television service,’” Calabrese said.

Second, the imposition of a 5% ancillary fee—which was originally put in place during the DTV transition—should be reconsidered in light of the new proposals. The fee is imposed on revenues broadcasters collect from so-called “diginets,” over-the-air channels many broadcasters provide in addition to their main signal. 

Calabrese said that “the fee should be substantially higher than 5% given the enormous potential value of TV spectrum if, as the Draft NPRM would apparently permit, it could be leased to mobile broadband carriers or others for uses unrelated to broadcasting.”

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its June meeting. More information on the proposal is available here