Last week the FCC rejected a request by a low power television broadcaster seeking an experimental license to test a technology that would allow broadcast television stations to provide broadband access.  The brief decision, available here, was issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau and rejected the request primarily on the grounds that the technology the LPTV broadcaster sought to test is inconsistent with the existing ATSC standard for transmission of digital television signals in the U.S.  This decision brought about a rebuke by a Wall Street Journal columnist, suggesting that the FCC was not fully exploring one way to rapidly deploy broadband through existing TV licensees, in fears of foregoing the revenues that would come from an auction of reclaimed television spectrum.   This issue arises while the FCC considers the digital conversion of LPTV, and the future of the television spectrum generally.

As has been well known and discussed for at least the last decade, the ATSC standard chosen for digital television broadcast service in the United States is not ideal for mobile service and is not well suited for two-way broadband service.  The current ATSC standard was designed to provide a signal to fixed locations for traditional in-home television watching.   As we have written before, in 2000, in the early days of the digital television conversion, some broadcasters suggested that the system be changed to accommodate a more robust signal allowing better mobile reception and other services that maximize the capacity of the digital channel. That proposal was rejected for fears of slowing the digital conversion, but is seemingly being revisited now. 

Continue Reading FCC Rejects Request by Low Power Television Broadcaster to Test Technology to Enable Broadband Service Over Broadcast Spectrum

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the CALM Act, directing the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations controlling the volume of commercials on television broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite, and other multichannel video programming providers. This bill was passed by the Senate in September.  Once signed by the President, the Federal Communications Commission will be required to adopt a rule to implement the legislation within one year, and the rule is to become effective within one year after its adoption. The FCC rule is to adopt parts of the ATSC A/85 standard, which seeks to target the volume of commercials in digital programming to the volume of dialogue (or other “anchor element”) in the accompanying program. An interesting description of the issues that must be addressed in determining just what is "loud," and for controlling that volume, can be found in a recent Wall Street Journal article (here, subscription may be required). 

Congressional estimates are that the costs of necessary equipment range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 per device, for an aggregate industry cost of tens of millions of dollars. Congress anticipated that the costs may be burdensome for small cable operators and smaller market television broadcasters, and provided that waivers may be granted for financial hardship for one year renewable terms  The Commission may also grant waivers or exemptions from the rule that it adopts for classes of broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors under the FCC’s general waiver authority.

Continue Reading Congress Passes CALM Act to Restrict Loud Commercials