Cable Ops Have ATSC 3.0 Questions

Ask FCC, nicely, to do more drilling down in NPRM

Cable operators have some questions they want the FCC to answer about how broadcasters will be allowed to roll out the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard and what new bandwidth demands will be put on MVPDs who carry the signals.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has circulated an item for a vote at the Feb. 23 meeting that would allow a voluntary rollout of the new standard, with the requirement (it is incompatible with current sets) that TV stations continue to deliver their regular programming in the current format. The item also asks a lot of questions about how that test/transition should be handled.

In a letter to the FCC, the American Television Alliance (ATVA), whose members include cable and satellite operators and others, praises the FCC for the new step of releasing the draft text of the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) before the vote—a Pai FCC reform pilot project—and for the number of questions the draft raises.

Related: ACA to FCC: Consider ATSC 3.0 Impact on Smaller MVPDs

While going out of its way not to criticize the draft per se, the group does offer up areas where it thinks "additional specificity" in the NPRM's questions would be helpful.

The draft broadly asks for comment on any deviations from the required simulcasting of TV station signals—cable operators would be required to carry the existing format but not the ATSC 3.0 signals as well, though they could choose to and would eventually have to switch to the ATSC 3.0 version once that became the new standard.

ATVA suggested drilling down with follow-ups, including asking whether stations should be permitted to simulcast in a lower format—standard vs. HD—and the impact on MVPD subs; whether they should be able to simulcast non-identical content; whether existing retrans deals cover simulcasts; and what simulcasting notice requirements there should be.

ATVA also said the NPRM should ask how much bandwidth an ATSC 3.0 signal will consume; whether, as the NPRM suggests, broadcasters can fit two ATSC 3.0 signals on a single facility; how much ATSC 3.0 coverage areas may differ or will be allowed to differ from current coverage; and if the ATSC 3.0 in some configurations expands coverage, should broadcasters be encouraged to do so.

ATVA has a number of questions about capacity including how much MVPD bandwidth ATSC 3.0 will consumer once it becomes the new standard.

Those questions include how that additional bandwidth requirement will impact MVPDs, program networks—would some have to be displaced to make room—and subs, as well as the cost of equipment for MVPDs and subs to receive the new signals.