TV Broadcasters Looking At Public Safety As Justification For Next Government Handout

from the smoke-mirrors-etc. dept

Plenty of broadcasters are still upset over the digital TV transition, in which they lost their analog spectrum rights — rights which they never had to pay for — as the FCC sought to reclaim it and put it towards more efficient and useful purposes. Getting the analog spectrum for free, and then having it replaced with the digital spectrum, again for free, was a massive government handout that’s formed the bedrock of broadcasters’ businesses. It’s a tradeoff that’s worked well: the broadcasters get the chance to make some money, and the public gets free over-the-air TV. But broadcasters are now looking for another handout, making noise that the FCC should mandate that every cell phone sold in the US have a digital TV receiver in it (via Ars Technica). It’s a great plan, according to broadcasters, because (of course) it will make us all safer. The TVs in every phone are apparently the best way to distribute information in case of public-safety emergencies, so we should all have them. Never mind, of course, that when there aren’t emergencies on, we can all tune in to great television programming brought to us by our totally altruistic broadcaster friends.

Apparently it’s a foolproof plan, because first, the FCC could mandate it (just like they took away the analog channels, we are reminded), and second, Americans replace their phones so frequently, that the life-saving feature could make its way into most of our phones within 5 years. One major oversight in the piece, though: there’s no mention of who’s going to pay for all of these tuners, which we’ll interpret to mean that it sure as hell won’t be the broadcasters who will conveniently then rely on them to help generate revenues. If the real interest here is public safety, why not mandate plain old radio receivers, which are much cheaper, and much more easily integrated into mobile phones? Maybe because public safety isn’t the real interest?

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “TV Broadcasters Looking At Public Safety As Justification For Next Government Handout”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So why not mandate that SMS is sent out to every phone in case of emergency (which every mobile phone is *already* capable of handling)?

When millions are apparently abandoning TV in favour of other entertainment options, what sense does it make to mandate its usage in unrelated devices? It makes no sense, unless of course you’re running one of the stations that people are abandoning…

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, SMS is a silly basic network feature that happens to also occasionally carry messages for the user instead of just phone network data.

That doesn’t change the fact that it would probably only take a minor change in tower hardware to have it relay the same message to each connected phone in the case of an emergency. Which would also be a great way of notifying all affected users that emergency services calls could disrupt regular service.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What would be really useful

Wait, cell phones already have built in ways to receive text messages. GREAT IDEA!!! Why didn’t I think of it?

“there’s no mention of who’s going to pay for all of these tuners, which we’ll interpret to mean that it sure as hell won’t be the broadcasters”

and if the broadcasters are so benevolent in their attempt to compel the FCC to require that cell phones have these “safety devices” why don’t these same benevolent broadcasters extend their altruistic benevolence to the extent of offering to pay to place these devices inside cell phones?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: What would be really useful

…but it’s still better than a TV signal in many ways. The same proportion of people not receiving an SMS would probably not see the TV announcement for various reasons ranging from the fact they’re driving at the time to the phone being turned off, inside a bag, on mute, etc. (and wouldn’t distracting drivers with an emergency bulletin be a major safety risk in and of itself?).

Apart from the level of information possible, the TV signal has no real advantage over SMS (and the SMS could include a link with additional information).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What would be really useful

Then they can send two text messages instead of just one or refer people to a local T.V. or radio station.

and to say that it would be a systematic problem is nonsense, transferring a couple of text messages is far easier, cheaper, and less problematic than implementing televisions inside cell phones.

“and some people would only get their messages hours later.”

and how would this be any less of a problem with built in televisions? Do you expect most people to be tuning into their cell phone televisions every five minutes? and with text messages the phone alerts you of a text message in opposed to a television where one must actively find a specific time to tune in.

It’s so amazing how these broadcasters are benevolent enough to lobby the FCC to do something in the best interest of the broadcasters but they’re not benevolent enough to offer to pay for any of it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What would be really useful

I’d imagine that people are envisioning a way to activate the TV automatically in case of emergency, or to alert the user when an emergency broadcast is under way.

Still doesn’t stop a lot of people from missing the broadcast, of course, but I imagine that people are at least considering this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What would be really useful

“I’d imagine that people are envisioning a way to activate the TV automatically in case of emergency, or to alert the user when an emergency broadcast is under way.”

Then how is that any less of a systematic problem than sending everyone text messages instead?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What would be really useful

“these broadcasters are benevolent enough to lobby the FCC to do something in the best interest of the broadcasters but they’re not benevolent enough to offer to pay for any of it.”

For the record, the TV stations are investing $100k each transmitter for digital mobile TV broadcast equipment. They also will pay for the ongoing TV content and emergency broadcast equipment.

That doesn’t mean they’re not very biased, as Carlo indicated in his article, but you’re wrong that they’re not paying for any of it.

IshmaelDS (profile) says:

Re: Re: What would be really useful

Along with the others that have replied you could also, oh I don’t know, maybe point people to a government site that has information in detail of the emergency, or perhaps give a phone number to call for details about it, maybe a time that there will be an address from the government about it? Just a couple ways you could use 160 characters to give enough information.

Tyanna says:

Re: Re: What would be really useful

Why not have a site where people can sign up for emergency announcements. They have the option of SMS and/or email. SMS would have the basic gist and a link. Email would have more info and a link.

Rather like how various transits informs people of system problems and delays.

Anonymous Coward says:

This would be great. I’m sure the television stations would also have absolutely no problem with the cellphone having the ability to record programs as well right? A cheap (since you already have the phone), portable DVR would be nice. Wait, they would have a problem?

Of course the cellphone industry would never allow this anyways since they’re still trying to sell the same content to their subscribers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Source

Actually, why does Techdirt support Ars Technica? They not only have a broken, dinosaur-inspired business model, but actively discredit their own fans and claim their community is worthless. Why would TD advocate supporting such a site? Especially because TD writers often speak of letting the market decide such issues. How can we let the dinosaur that is Ars die if you’re actively supporting it?

(I don’t block ads, they’re just dicks with a broken business model)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Source

As a strong guideline, Techdirt credits stories where it finds them, and links out to that source. Ars doesn’t seem to be so problematic a site that we should avoid it.

You use ad blockers – your call.
Techdirt doesn’t see any point in blocking you – Mike’s call
Ars relies on their ad revenue – their call.

No egregious actions in any of that.

I don’t see where “TD advocates supporting such a site” just from finding a story there.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

"Free" Spectrum?

The real reason that TV broadcasters was upset was that government was forcing them to change over from analog to digital but was not providing them with any financial motivation or compensation for doing so.

The American people got free coupons good for $40 off of a $40 converter box – the broadcasters got a deadline – spend $X,000,000 on new digital transmission equipment or go off the air.

The public outcry over the transition was huge and it basically cost them nothing (financially) and for most people they gained access to more channels and better picture quality. The broadcasters got stuck with a huge bill for a new transmitter, had to eat the cost of hundreds of person-hours of work to get switched over, had to give up a lot of advertising inventory to run the mandatory “The Big Switch Is Coming!” spots over and over and we got nothing from the government.

You may not like the fact the government “gave” the digital spectrum to TV broadcasters, but you seem to overlook the fact that TV broadcasters have to turn around and “give” their broadcasts back to the community for free. The public gains access to free television broadcasts, that is the public’s compensation for “giving away spectrum”.

Other than radio, I don’t know of any other privately owned businesses that are “given free spectrum” and then turn around and provide a free service in return.

If you want to gripe about companies “taking our spectrum” take it up with the cell phone companies who don’t give it back to the public, but sell it back at grossly inflated rates.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Free" Spectrum?

Waaaaaaaah! We didn’t upgrade our technology until the government made us! Give us free money to do what we should have been incrementally doing for decades! Waaaaahhhh!

Also, “provide a free service”… Have you ever watched TV? I don’t think 50/50 ads/content is the same as free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "Free" Spectrum?

From a Bones rerun the other night on a cable channel I pay for (paraphrased):

Tech 1: OMG, you’re so hip but you drive a minivan?
Tech 2: Yeah, I’m an artist and need a big vehicle blah blah…the Sienna is just the right size and that back-up camera thing? OMG, best thing since sliced bread…blah blah…

The public gets TV for free…pfft, please cry moar.

DH's love child says:

Re: "Free" Spectrum?

“If you want to gripe about companies “taking our spectrum” take it up with the cell phone companies who don’t give it back to the public, but sell it back at grossly inflated rates.”

Except they were not given that spectrum, they had to pay a tremendous amount of money to acquire the rights to deliver services on that spectrum.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: "Free" Spectrum?

Oliver Wendell Jones, you’re arguments stray too far from reality.

Yes, the TV broadcasters WERE given their spectrum licenses for free. It was the 1940s, an era when we had little appreciation for the value and scarcity of our RF spectrum. You also act like the cellular companies got a similar windfall. BS, they pay BILLIONS for their spectrum at auction. And how much did they get? Let’s have a look at this FCC PDF chart:

Do you see the blue areas everyone? That is TV and AM Radio! Holy @#$@#! Remember that lower frequencies travel better and you will see that broadcasters (Radio and TV) got not just the lion’s share of the spectrum, but also the best spectrum! Where is cellular telephony on the chart? Look for the tiny pink slivers at 800MHz, 1700MHz, 1900MHz, 2100 and 2500MHz, and the recently re-distributed pink slivers in the 700MHz range (all on the row of 300MHz to 3GHz). Give me a break! Cellphone companies have a good thing going, but it ain’t nothin’ compared to TV.

And what of the digital TV migration? The Broadcasters should have been undertaking the migration to digital on their own initiative. Modern businesses should occasionally update to modern technology…or would you argue that using the 1940s technology is adequate? What other business can succeed without updating their core technology for decades?

Why didn’t broadcasters upgrade on their own? Well, the main reason is chicken and egg: if just one TV station upgrades, where will it get content, and where will it find an audience with HDTVs? So, really, what the broadcasters needed was an independent authority to mandate a date for the upgrades. Then the studios, broadcasters, cable operators, TV makers, and customers could all make the switch together. Damn, what a help it would be if some centralized body could make that all happen simultaneously, that would really help the TV broadcasters with timing their upgrades. But government sucks, right?

Lastly, as others point out, don’t act like the US public gets TV for free. There is a very palpable trade-off between the amount of advertising we see and the amount of content we are offered. Further, most Americans (>80%) pay for satellite, FiOS, uVerse, or cable TV ($60/mo) and STILL get our spectrum wasted on shitty shows and STILL see ads. Americans subscribed to cable because the broadcasters were using some crappy 1940s technology to broadcast to us, the signals were bad and ghosted, so we paid for better cabled signal. The cablecos, in turn, give the TV stations a big chunk of our money to bring us the stations we were already supposed to have for free.

Anonymous Coward says:


“. . .in which they lost their analog spectrum rights — rights which they never had to pay for — as the FCC sought to reclaim it and put it towards more efficient and useful purposes. Getting the analog spectrum for free, and then having it replaced with the digital spectrum . . .”

RF spectrum is neither analog or digital. It is a state of electro-magnetism and is for the most part agnostic as to the the type of transmission scheme employed to excite electro-magnetic forces.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Pedantry

“OK, correct if you’re talking physics. But as licensed by the FCC, the technology and purpose of the spectrum is usually stipulated in the license. Thus, in practice RF spectrum often IS analog or digital.”

When one talks of RF spectrum, one is in fact talking about a physical state. It is the type of service that is analog or digital. In fact, the same spectrum can have both analog and digital services allocated to it simultaneously. For example, the UHF-TV band has full power digital TV service and full power analog TV service within 50 miles of the Mexican border, both analog and digital booster and translator services, both analog and digital LPTV, and both analog and digital broadcast auxiliary operations. The two-way way radio bands (VHF and UHF) have both analog and digital operations with no differentiation indicated on the licenses.

RF spectrum is agnostic with regards to transmission scheme.

John C says:

Broadcast TV in emergency

This is a joke. Last week during the earthquake here in southern California none of the tv stations did anything more than place a banner on the bottom of the screen, granted most of the damage took place south of the border in Mexico but it was still the largets quake to hit since 1906 in San Francisco.

Audio Guy says:

RF space

I just have to say that there is a lot of other things in the RF space other than just TV stations. They are required to register for such space, but all the wireless mics that you see at concerts and everywhere else live in this same RF band. They aren’t required to register because they don’t put out enough power (100mW). The latest FCC auction of the 700MHz band didn’t just hurt TV, it hurt a lot of Pro Audio users.

-steps down from soapbox

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: RF space

“. . . but all the wireless mics that you see at concerts and everywhere else live in this same RF band. They aren’t required to register because they don’t put out enough power (100mW).”

Absolutely wrong. *ALL* wireless mics/coms/IEMs/IFBs operating in the UHF-TV spectrum requires a license regardless of RF power output level, as per CFR47 Part 74.832.

Anonymous Coward says:

> why not mandate plain old radio receivers

Because they need a much longer antenna? All cell phones with FM radio I have seen so far will only receive radio if the wired headset is plugged in (the headset wire doubles as an antenna via some ingenious tricks).

That said, all the cell phones with digital TV I have seen so far have an ugly retractile antenna.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cellphones will never receive ATSC without fuel cells and a tank of fuel. ATSC demodulators are very power hungry. Also ATSC is screwed up by a moving receiver. Antenna size would also be huge (think 2 foot pull out like in old days) or your receive range would be 10 mile radius from the transmitter. The current approved Mobile ATSC standard involves sending another video and sound stream, at lower resolution and bitrate, in a different timeslice with different modulation *facepalm*

Also I haven’t watched broadcast TV in more than 10 years, cable channels only for me.

Loaded Paint Gun says:

“Maybe because public safety isn’t the real interest?”

Yes. Public safety and For the children! Right.

We’re fighting against billboards in our community and they’re pulling that card too. Except that these bulletins are hardly frequent (luckily) and hardly anyone is far from a TV, radio, internet or other people for such news, so the rest of the time I’ll just have a casino ad the size of an 18 wheeler looming over my once clear-skied backyard of 15 years.

At least I can turn off a phone.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Arguing both sides

I’ve already put up comments on this post arguing both sides of this issue.

I’ll also mention that I am consulting for one start-up (Rosum) that would benefit from mobile digital TV receivers in phones.

That said, the only argument I can make against Carlo is that the broadcasters might be on the side of the people on this issue…just by chance.

You see, free to air digital TV broadcasts hit Japan and Korea so far, and have been extremely popular. The majority of Japanese consumers CHOOSE to buy a cellphone with a TV tuner in it. The reason they do so is because the additional cost is small (~$5), and then they get free TV to their phone for the life of the phone. Compare that to MobiTV, VCast, or FLO in the US, which want between $10 and $15 a month for video.

The main reason that we don’t see much mobile TV here in the US is because the carriers control our devices. And the carrier vision of mobile TV is a unicast signal for which they can be the gatekeepers, and sell you through a augmented data plan, a FLO subscription, etc. They want in the revenue stream. They have absolutely no interest in a free-to-air digital TV broadcast that doesn’t pass through their tollbooth. So they are NOT going to subsidize phones that have these tuners.

…and there’s the big difference. In Japan and Korea, consumers choose and buy their own phones at independent retailers, while in the USA, carriers choose the phones and subsidize them. We get cheaper phones, but pay for them over our 2yr contracts. And we also lose the “free market” benefit of having the suppliers (Nokia, Samsung, LG) meet our demand (instead of the carrier’s).

Don’t you find it odd that you CANNOT buy a single brand of free-to-air TV phone in the USA? The digital signals are out there. Surely some consumers would want one. We are lacking consumer choice. Sure looks like something’s wrong with the functioning of the free market to me. American consumers don’t even have any idea that the devices exist.

So free-to-air digital TV in the US will have a tougher battle, because it interferes with the carrier business model around mobile video. The TV broadcasters, in this case, are trying to find a way to break through the carrier stranglehold. And while their public safety argument rings hollow, I would like to see Americans have the option of viewing their broadcasts. I mean, we gave them our damned spectrum to broadcast TV, and we’re not even using it!

Palmyra (profile) says:

People think!

I’ve read through 43 messages and I’ve yet to see why this will never happen. Why? “BECAUSE IT IS TOO FREAKING DANGEROUS!” States and municipalities are falling all over them selves to band texting while driving. There are already laws on the books about video in the front of cars. There is no way that this is going to be allowed unless the TV tuner is automatically shutdown when the car is moving. If that is the case then the phone/TV is useless for a large majority of the time.

Now lets look at other places where it could be used. Do you think your boss will be happy if you are watching TV on the job? Or you teacher if you are in school? How about walking into someone or something while watching? The Playboy channel while in church would go over really big with the Mrs. 🙂

Come to think of it I could do a lot of this on my Droid right now but I’m not.

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: People think!

This was going to be MY next point… People in cars driving down the road watching TV on their cell phone while driving (and texting and talking and putting on makeup with a newspaper over the steering wheel). Sorry sounds like a bad idea to me. But I also have to agree with Derek that part of the problem is the way the mobile market works in the US. Ok Time to take a migraine pill the mental Image I just gave myself is giving me a headache.

Anonymous Coward says:

Digital TV tuners would likely make broadcast TV far more relevant to people who have begun moving to internet video because the TV is inconvenient relative to the computer they are already sitting at. On the other hand, having access to a number of programs at any given time from your phone would be quite handy. Many of these devices could also act as mobile DVRs, either with included software or software made by the users. The latter group is almost certain to write the necessary software on any given smartphone.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...