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Broadcasters Want 'Predictable' ATSC 3.0 Substantially Similar Sunset

If the FCC doesn’t allow the substantially similar requirement for ATSC 3.0 broadcasters to sunset in June, an extension should be short and include a predictable endpoint, said NAB and Pearl TV in reply comments posted Wednesday in docket 16-422.

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A predictable sunset of the requirement will encourage innovation and help speed the transition,” said NAB. The consumer device market will reach “an inflection point” in 2024, and the agency shouldn’t extend the requirement more than two years, Pearl said. In their initial comments in the docket last month, Pearl and NAB focused on urging the FCC to allow the requirement to sunset in 2023 (see 2208090055). The agency has now held multiple proceedings on when the substantially similar rules should sunset, and it doesn’t need to hold a third proceeding to determine a new date, Pearl said. Broadcasters will be “unlikely to invest” in advanced 3.0 programming “unless and until they know they will be permitted to air it,” NAB said.

MVPD groups and a joint filing from Public Knowledge and the Open Technology Institute at New America said the requirement must be kept in place to prevent broadcasters from funneling their best content to their 3.0 feeds. The FCC should continue the substantially similar rule “because it protects consumers with virtually no burden to broadcasters,” said PK and OTI. “Rather than relying on broadcasters’ bare assertions that market incentives will be enough to protect consumers, the Commission should wait until the 3.0 transition is sufficiently advanced before removing the requirement,” said NCTA.

PK and OTI and the MVPD commenters also countered calls to do away with the 3.0 simulcasting rules. If broadcasters are being truthful that spectrum constraints caused by simulcasting prevent them from having the capacity to offer promised ATSC 3.0 features, “claims that broadcasters will continue to simulcast whether or not there is a requirement to do so should be taken with a grain of salt,” said the American Television Alliance. “Broadcasters presumably want to eliminate the simulcasting rules so that they can offer those features instead of simulcasting.” Arguments the substantially similar requirement is “a bulwark against a ‘two-tier’ broadcast service” are “counterintuitive and misguided,” said Graham Media.

The 3.0 proceeding’s record is “near-empty” on the issue of accessibility compliance for the new standard, said a joint filing from some consumer groups, including Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the American Council of the Blind. The “dearth of information” is concerning due to the history of accessibility problems that arose during the digital TV transition, the groups said.

One Media disputed arguments from PK and OTI that the FCC should be wary of broadcasters favoring 3.0 datacasting opportunities over their broadcasting obligations. “Using excess digital capacity for uses ancillary or supplementary to video program” isn’t a “bait and switch” and has public interest benefits in areas such as education, One Media said. “Both Congress and the Commission contemplated ancillary uses of broadcast spectrum years before broadcasters were required to make the analog to-digital transition more than a decade ago,” One Media said.