Setting the Record Straight on ATSC 3.0: Put Consumers First

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) for the past five years has been the leading voice for consumers in the battle against skyrocketing retrans fees and egregious broadcaster TV blackouts.  In a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission we raised a series of questions about a proposal known as ATSC 3.0 that could significantly raise the costs to consumers of receiving broadcast television either over-the-air or from a pay-TV provider.

If implemented properly, the proposal in question could have some important benefits to consumers, including access to higher quality 4K video and immersive sound, and more efficient spectrum.  This innovative technology is a good thing for consumers, and ATVA isn’t trying to stop it. In fact, ATVA is working with the FCC to weigh all of the significant factors, because that’s exactly what Americans deserve.

ATVA is just the latest in a wide range of diverse groups to weigh in on the new standard, including the National Association of Broadcasters own members, who have publicly expressed concerns about moving forward with the new standard.

Consumer advocate groups such as Public Knowledge have called on broadcasters to continue meeting their public interest obligations, regardless of changes to the technology used to deliver signals.  Other groups have also expressed concerns related to ATSC 3.0 recently.  Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty notes that the “first nationwide upgrade from analog to digital in 2009 wound up costing the federal government $1.3 billion in vouchers for low-income families.” Timothy Lee with the Center for Individual Freedom points out that “consumers who currently receive local stations over the air or via cable or satellite providers suddenly would face the possibility of incurring the cost of new equipment in order to receive the new signal.”

In addition to the fees that consumers could incur as a result of purchasing new equipment, ATSC 3.0 carriage could be leveraged by broadcasters to extract yet even more retrans fees that could be passed on to consumers.  Those concerns and the others impacting access and consumer cost burdens should all give us pause to consider their full impact.

Fees charged by broadcasters to transmit what is supposed to be free over the air signals are the fastest rising part of consumers’ TV bills.  Broadcasters have increased total retransmission consent fees more than 22,000 percent since 2005, according to publicly available data.  SNL Kagan, for example, predicts that retransmission consent fees will total more than $11.6 billion in the next five years.

We have to take the Ronald Reagan approach in this case: “Trust but verify.”  This is a very big deal for everyone who watches TV in the United States and will have major implications for consumer costs and access.  And for this reason, ATVA has pledged to work with the FCC to ensure that costs associated with the transition to ATSC 3.0 do not fall at the feet of consumers.

We welcome a conversation with the NAB and federal regulators to address the concerns for consumers that we put forward in our recent filing.

Trent Duffy is the National Spokesman for the American Television Alliance, a coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies and independent programmers raising awareness about why TV blackouts are happening and what can be done to stop them.  

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