Press Release Spectrum Reform

Public Knowledge Welcomes FCC Action to Begin Transition to Next Generation Television

December 10, 2020 , , , ,
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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Report and Order that modifies existing regulations to encourage adoption of ATSC 3.0, a new Broadcast Television Standard.

In 2017, the Commission adopted rules approving ATSC 3.0 on a voluntary basis. The new standard uses spectrum much more efficiently than the current standard and will allow broadcasters to expand their traditional over-the-air broadcasting services. The Report and Order that the Commission adopted today creates incentives for broadcasters to deploy new ATSC 3.0 equipment by adjusting the formula of how broadcasters compensate the public for using their free broadcast spectrum for non-broadcast services, known as “ancillary services.”

Public Knowledge initially objected to the item because it foreclosed a future proceeding on using the ancillary services fee to protect consumers from the consumer costs of the transition (such as new equipment to receive broadcasts in the new standard), and because the incentives to broadcasters were too generous given that broadcasters will not be required to offer new programming in high-definition or other improved formats. As a result of changes requested by Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, the order is now more balanced, and the FCC will defer consideration of how to protect consumers from unfair costs during the transition.

The following can be attributed to Kathleen Burke, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“The Order that the FCC adopted today is greatly improved from the original draft Order. We are glad to see that the FCC has decided not to rule on its authority to mitigate the cost to consumers of a future broadcast television transition. The current Commission should avoid adopting policies that will foreclose a future Commission’s ability to mitigate the public costs of the transition in the future.

“When the FCC eventually makes the transition to ATSC 3.0 mandatory, consumers will face the same challenges that they faced during the digital television transition in 2009. Purchasing new equipment is expensive for consumers and a transition will disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, and rural communities—groups that already have limited access to diverse media and are more likely to rely on free over-the-air broadcasting.

Public Knowledge will continue to monitor the ATSC 3.0 transition. We look forward to working with the Commission and broadcasters to ensure that the ATSC 3.0 transition serves the public without compromising the quality of free over-the-air television.”