Powell Pushes ATSC 1.0 HD Simulcasts

NCTA tells FCC broadcasters should not be allowed to downgrade 1.0 to drive 3.0 adoption

Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, met with new Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr last week to try and convince him that the FCC should require broadcasters transitioning to a new ATSC 3.0 next gen broadcast standard to continue to deliver HD signals to their viewers'--and NCTA member's head-ends.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai two weeks ago circulated the draft text of an order authorizing the voluntary rollout of the standard. That draft could change before the scheduled Nov. 16 vote, but as drafted it does not require broadcasters to continue to deliver HD.

"We decline to adopt requirements regarding the format of the 1.0 simulcast signal. We recognize that broadcasters may face spectrum constraints that could limit their ability to continue to provide HD programming or other enhanced formats on the ir 1.0 simulcast signals," the FCC draft said.

The proposal also would not require an HD version of the 1.0 simulcast signal to be delivered to head-ends. "We also decline to require broadcasters that choose to convert their ATSC 1.0 simulcast signal from HD to SD, or otherwise change the quality of the signal, to deliver a higher resolution signal to MVPDs.

The FCC recognized that not imposing that requirement meant consumers may not get HD signals, which could affect MVPD subs as well as over-the-air.

But, it said it expects broadcasters will provide the highest possible quality signals during the voluntary deployment, just as they provide those high-quality signals today for competitive reasons, though there is currently no mandate to broadcast in HD either.

"[W]hile we urge broadcasters to continue to provide high quality/HD service on their 1.0 simulcast channels to the extent possible, we will rely on broadcasters’ market-based incentives to do so rather than mandating a specific format for simulcast channels. For the same reasons, we also decline to require broadcasters that choose to convert their ATSC 1.0 simulcast signal from HD to SD, or otherwise change the quality of the signal, to deliver a higher resolution signal to MVPDs," the FCC said.

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Powell suggested that wasn't going to cut it, telling Carr that the FCC require that the ATSC 1.0 signal continue to be broadcast in the same format as before. "Consumers should not be required to purchase new TV sets to continue watching HD and other high-quality programming that they enjoy today," he told Carr, with an assist from NCTA SVP Rick Chessen.

Powell and Chessen also put in a plug for scrutinizing broadcasters' use of ATSC 3.0 signals in retrans.

The FCC has proposed not precluding broadcasters from bundling ATSC 3.0 and 1.0 signals in retrans deals, something NCTA had opposed. Powell and Chessen said the FCC needs to "Scrutinize" and broadcaster attempt to secure what they called "premature" ATSC 3.0 carriage by tying it to 1.0, or as they framed it, "unreasonably withholding access to ATSC 1.0.