6/8 FCC Reply Comments on Authorization of Next Generation TV (ATSC 3.0)

Regulatory/Legislative Filings
June 8, 2017

Download the full comments here.

The Open Technology Institute at New America, Consumers Union and Public Knowledge appreciate the opportunity to offer our reply comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that, if approved, would permit broadcasters to voluntarily transition to the new ATSC 3.0 digital broadcast standard.

First, there is strong support for our view that the Commission should ensure that any authorization of ATSC 3.0 will not result in either degraded picture quality or a substantial loss in coverage area for consumers who continue to rely on ATSC 1.0 signals to receive the broadcast licensee’s free, primary stream over the air (OTA). The record strongly supports the position that consumers must not be made worse off or involuntarily bear additional costs as a result of the transition. We do not assume that a permanent transition to ATSC 3.0 won’t result in some consumer cost or disruption. At the same time, our groups urge the Commission to ensure that any involuntary costs or loss of service is minimal—and not simply grant maximum flexibility to the broadcasters to proceed as they see fit.

Second, our groups agree with the concerns raised by a broad array of commenters regarding the likelihood that retransmission consent negotiations will be abused to compel ATSC 3.0 carriage, thereby undermining the voluntary nature of the transition and imposing costs on pay TV operators that are ultimately passed along to consumers. The record demonstrates that the existing rules for retransmission consent are already being used to compel carriage in direct contradiction to what has been billed a voluntary transition. We strongly agree with the commenters who suggest that if the Commission authorizes ATSC 3.0, it should in tandem update its good faith rules to provide it is a per se violation of the duty to negotiate in good faith to tie or condition carriage of a broadcast licensee’s ATSC 1.0 signal with all or part of its ATSC 3.0 signal.

Third, our groups agree with high-tech industry commenters strongly opposing any consideration of additional grants of TV band spectrum, potentially worth billions of dollars, to any licensee at this time to facilitate ATSC 3.0 transmissions. If local broadcast stations need additional, exclusively-licensed spectrum to optimize their business model for ATSC 3.0, then they should participate in an auction or access secondary markets, like any other wireless company, or use vacant channels in their market on an unlicensed basis, like any other company or the general public. A failure to explicitly foreclose the ability of broadcast licensees to use ATSC 3.0 to acquire exclusive rights to an additional 6 megahertz of spectrum would also exacerbate uncertainty among unlicensed users of TV white spaces, including wireless microphones, rural broadband providers, utilities, agricultural applications, and many other current and potential uses and benefits of unlicensed access to this unique low-band spectrum resource. Broadcast licensees must not be allowed to use ATSC 3.0 as the pretext for a spectrum windfall at public expense that also undermines the long-promised nationwide availability of TV White Spaces for rural broadband and other innovative new uses.

We also agree with wireless industry commenters that the Commission should ensure that any authorization of ATSC 3.0 adds no additional delay to the 39-month incentive auction repacking process in the 600 MHz band and that broadcasters must not be allowed to subsidize their ATSC 3.0 business models with taxpayer money from the incentive auction relocation fund.

Fourth, the ATSC 3.0 transition does not fundamentally alter broadcasters’ public interest obligations. We urge the Commission to clarify that as consumers transition from today’s TVs, with tuners that receive only ATSC 1.0 signals, to future devices that receive only ATSC 3.0 signals, stations must be required to simulcast their primary and free over-the-air video stream and maintain all the current public interest obligations regardless of the standard that a viewer’s device uses to receive that content. If the Commission is authorizing ATSC 3.0 as part of a permanent transition away from ATSC 1.0, then duplication of broadcasters’ primary stream in ATSC 3.0 will be necessary to protect consumers and fulfill the most basic public interest obligation to their community of service.

Finally, the Commission should consider what privacy issues might arise with the future implementation of ATSC 3.0. Advanced capabilities such as targeted advertising and the potential collection of personally identifiable information necessitate consumer protection. In similar instances, consumer data (e.g., viewing habits, personally identifiable information, etc.) is guarded by the Communications Act, notably in Section 631. As part of this proceeding, the Commission should consider what privacy safeguards should apply to broadcasters if they collect and use consumer data for advertising purposes in the future, as made possible by the new ATSC 3.0 standard.

Download the full comments here.