"voluntary" over the air TV transition

Remember the transition from analog to digital “hi def” broadcast in 2009? “Big gummit” mandated that all TVs built from 2007 on include a digital tuner, using the ATSC 1.0 standard. Additionally, the government provided free coupons for consumers to obtain converter boxes to receive the new digital broadcasts, and view on their old analog TVs. No-one was left out in the cold. Typical “big gummit” in action.

In 2017, the FCC authorized a transition from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0, but called it “voluntary”, and “market based”. TV makers are not “burdened” by a mandate to include an ATSC 3.0 tuner, and the government is not “burdened” by a mandate to provide converters to owners of older sets.

TV stations can voluntarily broadcast in ATSC 3.0, but are “burdened” by a mandate that the 3.0 broadcast be substantially the same as their broadcast in 1.0, until the FCC allows them to shut down 1.0.

Study break: ATSC 3.0? Different method of broadcasting, requires a different tuner than ATSC 1.0. Supposedly more resistant to interference. Offers higher “4k” resolution. Offers digital rights management, supposedly to prevent rebroadcast over the 'net, but also enables over-the-air pay-per-view and subscription services. Only thing preventing TV stations charging a fee for everything is a “big gummit” regulation that over the air TV be free, rather than rationed by ability to pay. 3.0 also enables more targeted advertising.

In 2017, the FCC decreed that ATSC 1.0 broadcast would be sunsetted, leaving 3.0 broadcast, in the summer of 2023. Last year, the FCC pushed the sunset date to 2024. A couple months ago, the FCC pushed the sunset date to 2027.

Some stations broadcasting in 3.0, have turned on their DRM, even though the external adapter boxes currently available are not capable of decoding the DRM signal. Only some, not all, high end “4K” TVs have a 3.0 tuner. No lower priced sets have a 3.0 tuner, nor is there any warning to consumers that the new TV they are buying may be obsolete in the near future, like there was in 2009, because the transition is “voluntary”, and “market based”, not a “big gummit mandate”.

But wait! There’s more! A company holding patents relating to some of the IP used in ATSC 3.0 sued TV maker LG for patent infringement, and won. The judgement against LG was tiny, only a few million. But LG does not want to pay royalties going forward, so had decided to stop installing 3.0 tuners in any of it’s TVs, which they can do, because there is no “big gummit” mandate to install the 3.0 tuner. No other TV maker is currently licensed by the company owning that IP, so suits or settlements will probably be announced in the near future. Will the other TV makers drop 3.0 tuners from the few sets they currently install them in?

What a mess! Oh, if there is an ATSC 1.0, and an ATSC 3.0, what happened to ATSC 2.0? Still born. By the time it was ready for rollout, it was obsolete, so deployment was cancelled.

So, now, what happens? I’m thinking that broadcasters want the DRM capability of 3.0, especially if they can get rid of the “Commie big gummit” reg, so they can charge for all over-the-air TV. But the cell phone companies want all of the TV broadcast spectrum. Cell company lobbying has motivated the FCC to cut down the TV spectrum and reallocate the spectrum to cell service in several steps, but the cell operators want all of the spectrum. Ideology dictates everything be rationed by ability to pay, so it’s a race between TV programming producers and cell operators. Who stands to make more loot off that spectrum?

Here is a newly produced piece on the patent issue, with some background on the promise, and the problems, with 3.0 in, the real world. And all this is flying under the radar of most people, because the transition is “voluntary” and “market based”, so there is no “burden” to tell the public about it.