A public media consulting group’s proposal to require cable and satellite operators to carry public broadcasters’ ATSC 3.0 signals has drawn opposition from the cable TV industry and no support from PBS, CPB and America’s Public TV Stations.
ATSC 3.0, or Next Gen TV, is the new transmission technology that the FCC authorized broadcasters to start using on a voluntary basis in November. Under current FCC rules, cable and satellite TV systems can be required to carry signals that pubcasters broadcast in ATSC 1.0, the existing TV standard technology in the U.S.
But rules for ATSC 3.0 do not extend the same carriage requirements, at least until the expiration of another regulation requiring broadcasters offering ATSC 3.0 to simulcast their main channels on 3.0 and ATSC 1.0.
Public Media Co., which is working with public TV stations on business planning for ATSC 3.o, asked the FCC in February to let pubcasters who opt to drop ATSC 1.0 signals altogether and offer only ATSC 3.0 signals — also referred to as flash-cutting — to require carriage of their signals. That change is needed to encourage pubcasters to roll out the new technology, PMC said.
“[I]t is vital that the Commission promise must-carry rights for the primary ATSC 3.0 service of any NCE station that flash-cuts to Next Gen TV,” PMC said in its FCC comments. “Failing to do so may significantly delay or jeopardize the adoption of ATSC 3.0.”
Many public broadcasters serving rural areas would be unlikely to transition to ATSC 3.0 if they would lose must-carry rights, PMC attorney Brad Deutsch told Current.
“We’re not asking for noncommercials to get something they don’t already have,” Deutsch said.
But the FCC has made no secret of its opposition to the proposal, as PBS, CPB and APTS acknowledged in an FCC filing March 20, in which they also urged the FCC to exempt public broadcasters from the agency’s ATSC 3.0 simulcasting requirement and to let broadcasters use vacant TV channels to help them transition to ATSC 3.0.
“While PTV appreciates the Public Media Company’s request that the Commission provide must-carry rights for the primary ATSC 3.0 service of any noncommercial educational licensee that flash-cuts to Next Gen TV . . ., PTV realizes the Commission is not inclined to do so at this time,” the organizations said.
“I don’t see the FCC changing its rules” to accommodate PMC’s request, said John Lawson, a former APTS president who is now executive director of the AWARN Alliance, an emergency alerting service for ATSC 3.0.
Along with APTS, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Technology Association, AWARN filed the 2016 petition at the FCC that ultimately led to the authorization of ATSC 3.0.
“I appreciate PMC’s intentions,” Lawson told Current in an email. “But the four organizations on the Joint Petition and subsequent filings made clear that we were not advocating any new carriage requirements on cable, including carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals.”
“For a public station that flash cuts, other carriage options are open to them, including channel sharing with an ATSC 1.0 lighthouse station in their market or negotiating carriage via a direct connection between the station and the cable headend,” Lawson said. “It’s clear from the record that MVPD’s [cable and satellite TV operators] value PTV programming because their customers value it.”
“I also think some MVPD’s will want to at least explore ATSC 3.0 carriage for competitive reasons, and an early adopter PTV station might be a great partner for that,” Lawson added.
PMC CEO Marc Hand said in an email that the consulting group was aware that the FCC, “at this stage, might not be supportive of our position.”
“Given the impact of this on the ability of rural stations to convert to ATSC 3.0 we felt it was important to raise this regardless of whether or not the FCC, at this stage, might be in favor of this position,” Hand added.
PMC’s request has also met with opposition from the cable TV industry’s NCTA — the Internet & Television Association.
In establishing ATSC 3.0 rules, the FCC correctly ruled that allowing broadcasters to drop ATSC 1.0 signals and demand carriage for ATSC 3.0 signals would impose “significantly greater costs and burdens” on cable and satellite companies that they should not have to take on, NCTA said in FCC comments March 20.
“Public Media offers no legal or policy reason to reverse that logical approach,” NCTA said.
The FCC said in November that it will continue monitoring the rollout of ATSC 3.0 before considering elimination of the simulcast requirement.