FCC looks to make ATSC 3.0 more confusing

Is the next generation of TV technology a flop before it’s even been adopted? That’s one possible takeaway from the latest news. In a press release, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr says he is exploring the idea of using ATSC 3.0 technology to deliver “high-speed” internet services to hopes that need it. This is a surprisingly mixed message even from this FCC, which has repeatedly confused the public with its plans.

First of all, here’s what he (maybe) means.

First of all, this all comes as Commissioner Carr spoke to the National Association of Broadcasters and Consumer Technology Association, two trade groups that have been endorsing ATSC 3.0. While there wasn’t any attempt to hide it from the public, the message here was intended for professionals.

There’s also a very pro-business message here. Commissioner Carr is really talking about removing some FCC rules. Those rules stop broadcasters from reselling or leasing their spectrum for non-public use. Of course this is going to be warmly received. Broadcasters always claim to be on the edge of failure due to high costs. I can’t say if that’s really true.

If these changes pass, and that could be years from now, broadcasters who didn’t want to use all of their channel allocation could lease it out to provide home internet service to a limited number of people.

How would this work anyway?

Although Commissioner Carr talks about “high-speed” internet, he’s proposing 25Mbps connections, which are slower than almost all residential and cellular internet found in suburbs and cities. It would be a low-cost play to get internet to people who don’t really have it.

It’s not clear how the technology would work. In addition to a fairly large receive antenna, there would have to be some way to broadcast, and that might mean big powerful antennas in people’s homes. Without a cellular infrastructure, a lot of power would be required to get that signal back to base.

But I’m not sure he (or anyone) cares.

I think this is a play to please broadcasters and give them the incentive to upgrade to ATSC 3.0. The people on this site and other enthusiast forums are interested in the next generation of television, but it’s hard to say that the general public is. Despite half a decade of “it’s coming, it’s cool” posts and stories from major media outlets, there’s no big demand for ATSC 3.0. Many broadcasters still aren’t convinced that it’s worthwhile. A few large media groups have been pushing it hard, because they think it will increase ad revenue. But for many smaller broadcasters it’s just another expense.

Commissioner Carr seems to be holding out a carrot to broadcasters. He’s saying, “if you put in all this investment and it doesn’t really work out for you, there’s other ways to get your money back.” No one really understands how that tech would work yet, and it may never work. Keep in mind there are still aspects of the original HD standard that no one uses. This could be just another feature that doesn’t actually get traction.

In the meantime…

Whether we stay with our current broadcast standard or go to something new, the frequencies are going to stay the same. This means that today’s antennas will continue to work for decades to come. It’s a perfect time to shop for a new antenna at Solid Signal. You’ll get a quality antenna that will last for decades.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 5,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.