Home » Uncategorized » What is the Total Cost of the New ATSC 3.0 Broadcast Standard?

By Rosa Mendoza, HTTP Executive Director

As content delivery evolves, so does the hardware needed to keep it functioning optimally. Just like phones will need to be able to work with 5G signal bands and laptops need compatible Wi-Fi receivers, soon TVs will potentially need to be compatible with the ATSC 3.0 next generation broadcast standard. For reference, the current broadcast standard is ATSC 1.0. Broadcasters want to change the standard to accommodate mobile and higher definition content delivery. On the surface, this seems like an understandable undertaking, however, the problem is that one of the organizations that is touting this new change, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), admits that the new broadcast standard will render many televisions obsolete. And unfortunately, a higher proportion of those impacted will likely be low-income and minority households.

In a piece written by Rich Chernock, Chairman of the ATSC, he points out that due to the fact that this next-generation broadcast standard would be incompatible with many current devices, “it must provide improvements in performance, functionality, and efficiency significant enough to warrant implementation of a non-backwards-compatible system.” But have the improvements been proven to warrant the changeover yet? Do the potential benefits of a better signal quality, picture and system efficiency outweigh the negative impact of people losing their signal altogether? The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) is not able to answer these questions and we request that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ensure there is enough time, and a valid approach to quantifying the resulting data, to answer these crucial questions before moving forward. Without sufficient answers, low-income and minority families could be adversely affected and we could see the digital divide widen before our eyes.

To start, in order to ensure that vulnerable communities aren’t left without necessary content, there needs to be a significant effort by broadcasters to manage this change to ensure that all parties involved fully understand what is happening, why, and how viewers can continue to consume vital over-the-air content. This effort should include comprehensive communication, in multiple languages, to ensure people know what is coming. A sense of urgency must be engendered to ensure people understand the full impact of the transition. Imagine if residents of a local area were not able to receive an Amber Alert or if they were unable to view life-saving content regarding an impending natural disaster?

If it is decided that the benefits of a transition to ATSC 3.0 outweigh the negative effects to the general public, viewers will need a sufficient amount of time to make the necessary adjustments to their hardware, which for many will mean the time to budget for a new device. Purchasing a new device will require significant planning and a realistic timeline to be employed by the broadcasters. Among other steps, the most vital at the current time is for the broadcasters to ensure there are sufficient data points to measure and predict the impact of this transition. HTTP acknowledges and supports the stipulation in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requiring broadcasters to simulcast locally in both 1.0 and 3.0 broadcast standards. We also suggest that the FCC give enough time for vulnerable communities (e.g. low-income, minority, elderly) to transition over to hardware that is compatible with the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, which we understand would be part of a separate proceeding as indicated on page 14, section 27 of the NPRM. It is not enough to demonstrate that the majority of households have made the transition but rather crucial to ensure that a majority of households in vulnerable demographics are given ample time to acquire the necessary hardware.

HTTP asks that the FCC use prudence as it considers whether to approve or deny this broadcast standard changeover, and in what form, because it is currently unclear exactly to what extent families will be impacted, especially low-income and minority families. Consumers must be at the forefront of this decision and we must do our best to minimize the negative impact on vulnerable communities.

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