The HDTV Switch Revisited: Is ATSC 3.0 Déjà Vu All Over Again?

The question has become commonplace on social media:  someone having grown so frustrated with their options for TV that they’re asking for advice on how to “cut the cord”: which services to use, what equipment they need to purchase, how it changes their viewing habits. It used to be easy—you’d plug your TV in, connect it to an aerial or cable box, and voila, your picture would appear!

But over the last two decades, it has gotten so complicated that consumers are, in many cases, throwing up their hands and op ting out of real-time broadcast television entirely.  The 2009 HDTV mandate, for instance, cost consumers and the federal government billions of dollars, since it made all “analog” television tuners completely obsolete, requiring the purchase of new TVs or special, (in many cases) government-subsidized tuners.

In light of this, one would think that broadcasters would want to keep things simple and stable for consumers (especially given the fact that the HDTV mandate was less than a decade ago).  But no, here they come again, now asking the FCC to approve a new transmission standard:  ATSC 3.0.

ATSC 3.0 really is “déjà vu all over again” – a complete revisiting of the HDTV switch.  Once again, consumers would be forced to buy new equipment that is ATSC 3.0 compatible (or pay the price for new equipment from their cable, TELCO or satellite provider)—while at the same time potentially paying increased costs from these providers due to their forced re-investment in new equipment to carry the ATSC 3.0 signals.

Now, there is some talk about broadcasters having a mandatory non-ATSC 3.0 “simulcast” requirement, so that consumers could still receive their content.  But broadcasters are now having second thoughts about whether they will simulcast at all—or possibly an additional alternative in which they put those secondary simulcasts on weaker broadcast signals, in smaller coverage areas.

This, once again, puts those in Rural America at greater risk of losing out with a switch to ATSC 3.0 (as the HDTV switch did).  If they don’t buy new TVs or otherwise make arrangements to get the stronger signals, then they will lose out on the programming that they can currently receive.

The market, as always, gives actors in the marketplace the best signals as to how to proceed with business.  The fact that more and more consumers, each and every day, are cutting the cord with traditional (even neo-traditional) television content providers and shifting to online (and other) options should be telling broadcasters all they need to know about technology innovation…

Simple and voluntary is always the best way to go. Complicated and mandatory is the worst.  It’s always incredibly expensive and causes harm to vast swatches of the consuming public.  The FCC must consider this as they examine ATSC 3.0.

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