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ACA To FCC: Don’t Rubber Stamp ATSC 3.0 Transition

Concerns Of Small Operators Facing Dramatic Compliance Costs Need To Be Addressed

PITTSBURGH, May 27, 2016 - According to the American Cable Association, the Federal Communications Commission should proceed cautiously before allowing broadcasters to replace their over-the-air signals with signals in a new, unfinished, and untested format.  ACA argued that the FCC should issue a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding this issue before considering specific rules.  An NOI would fully examine the costs that a transition to the new format would entail for small cable systems and their customers-as well as the legal and constitutional issues associated with such a transition.

ACA set forth its views in comments filed with the FCC in response to a broadcaster request to have the FCC authorize a new transmission standard called "ATSC 3.0."  While broadcasters see promise in the new standard, ACA noted that ATSC 3.0 has yet to be finalized and compatible equipment is not yet commercially available.  Despite this uncertainty, ACA warned that the transition to ATSC 3.0 will likely result in additional costs for small cable operators and their subscribers.

"Depending on how ATSC 3.0 is implemented, the transition could have a dramatic effect on MVPDs, especially the small and mid-sized cable operators represented by ACA.  It could require significant new capital outlays and consume additional capacity on cable systems that could have been used for other programming or for broadband capacity.  Broadcasters neither acknowledges these problems nor suggests how they might be resolved," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA said that issuing an NOI prior to considering any new rules would allow the FCC to understand fully the technical and economic interplay between this new proposed broadcast standard and existing cable systems.  ACA asked the FCC to examine the following issues, among others:

  • Which signals will small cable operators be expected to carry, and for how long? The broadcasters' proposal contemplates that broadcasters would "simulcast" ATSC 1.0 for an unspecified period of time. The proposal, however, makes contradictory statements about which signal small cable operators would have to carry. Nor does it explain when and under what circumstances broadcasters would cease simulcasting;
  • What would be the costs of this transition for small cable operators, and who would have to pay for them? ACA has provisionally identified several categories of costs, but the broadcasters' proposal fails to discuss them;
  • How much capacity would the new standard use? ATSC 3.0 signals - particularly those used for ultra-high definition television - will likely consume more bandwidth on cable systems than ATSC 1.0 signals. This, of course, represents capacity that could be used instead for broadband or for other video services that subscribers might prefer; and
  • Does the FCC have the authority to adopt the broadcasters' proposal in the first place? ACA pointed out that, as now formulated, the broadcasters' proposal would unlawfully delegate the FCC's authority to a private standards-setting organization. The proposal would also increase burdens on cable operators with no speech-related benefits to broadcasters, calling into question its constitutionality.

"The transition to ATSC 3.0 is a project that principally benefits broadcasters. The FCC should not allow broadcasters to outsource the costs of this project to small cable operators," ACA's Polka said.

About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing nearly 750 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for nearly 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.  For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/

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