New FCC Rule Could Send TV Back to the Dark Ages of September 2016

This is not the sort of "consolidation wave" to worry about.



Here's how USA Today led its article about a rule change that will probably be adopted next month at the Federal Communications Commission:

TV-station owners may soon go on a buying spree, a consolidation wave that could limit programming options for viewers.

What is the proposal in question? I'll get to the details in a moment. But when it comes to judging how much it might limit your programming options, the key fact is that the rule would undo a regulation adopted in September of last year. Whatever purchases it sets off, we aren't exactly headed for uncharted territory. A more accurate lede would have been "TV-station owners may soon go on a buying spree, a consolidation wave that could end with the way things were six months ago," but I guess that isn't as exciting.

The specific change involves the fact that a single chain of stations isn't allowed to reach more than 39 percent of the country's households. When calculating that 39 percent, regulators used to count outlets on the UHF band as having only half the reach of outlets on the VHF band. Since September, the two sorts of stations have been counted as having the same reach. If the new proposal is adopted, regulators will go back to the old system.

The proposal's opponents say the UHF/VHF distinction shouldn't matter in the era of digital broadcasting. Proponents don't necessarily dispute that, but they suggest that the September change was adopted improperly, that the FCC is likely to lose a current court challenge to the rule, and that the commission should—in the words of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai—"launch a comprehensive review of the national ownership cap, including the UHF discount, later this year." In the past Pai has conceded that the technical reasons for the UHF discount no longer apply, but he also argued that changing it in isolation amounted to tightening the ownership cap through the back door, and that it would be better to consider both issues at once.

Most of this—basically everything but some details of Pai's position—is in the USA Today article, so if you read it to the end you may come to understand that this is essentially a technocratic debate about how to adjust two interdependent rules. But that's all the more reason to bristle at such an alarmist lede. I am capable of responding to regulatory changes at the FCC with enthusiasm, and I am capable of responding to regulatory changes at the FCC with gloom. Temporarily restoring the UHF discount is not going to spark either emotion.

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  1. I am capable of responding to regulatory changes at the FCC with enthusiasm, and I am capable of responding to regulatory changes at the FCC with gloom. Temporarily restoring the UHF discount is not going to spark either emotion.

    Jesse just wants to feel something, anything, goddammit.

    1. Since it doesn’t decrease anyone’s freedom, & could increase the freedom of some, compared to the status quo (for the past half yr.), why not at least some enthusiasm?

  2. I have dim memories of things known as ‘TV stations’ in my youth. They were the things that delivered tv shows, sportscasts, and movies before everything came over the internet, right?

    1. I hope you millenials enjoy your multiple subscription charges, randomly appearing and disappearing program availability, and stop’n’go streaming action.

      1. Dude, Hugh is like 70.

        1. To be fair, Rhywun didn’t specify which millennium.

      2. As opposed to huge cable bills for maybe 4 worthwhile channels out of 900, and watching my shows on someone else’s schedule?

      3. randomly appearing and disappearing program availability

        Are you really suggesting this is not a problem with TV? There are plenty of shows I miss because the network decides to change the air date, or preempt for something else. And that scheduling is totally out of my control. And unless I capture it on DVR, availability is very limited and out of my control, too. (even then, it’s only on the DVR as long as the box functions)

        1. Leave him alone, he’s got kids to chase off his lawn.

  3. If they’re removing a regulation on business, it’s bad. No matter what. Even if it was just enacted yesterday. Even if it does nothing. Removing regulation is dangerous – people will die, fat cats will get fatter, the “working man” will be shackled deep in the mines. This is the media. This is what they do.

    There are very narrow exceptions to this: any regulation on abortion is pure evil and probably a few things around teh gays.

  4. Since the digital switch, there are now more stations broadcasting on UHF than VHF so it kinda makes sense why they changed the rule.

    Having just put up an antenna, UHF stations seem easier to receive at long distance compared to VHF stations.

    Even with a big giant antenna intended to pick up everything from low-VHF through UHF I can’t get the only full power, low VHF station in my area (range 45 miles) with the antenna in my attic. Every other station is perfect.

    If I stick it on the roof I might be able to get that low-VHF station. I do know I will get low power UHF stations from 90 miles away though.

    1. I gave up on broadcast TV not long after the switch to digital. I live pretty far from any stations, so reception isn’t great. With analog TV you could watch fuzzy TV and get used to it. With digital, it’s either perfect or completely unwatchable.

      1. How far away? I can easily pick up stations from 30-40 miles away.

        1. The two stations I sometimes get are at the edge of that range. The stuff I used to be able to get in analog are more like 70. And there are lots of hills around.

      2. Chances are, your problem is actually that you have an antenna that is better suited for VHF when you need a UHF antenna.

        1. That is definitely part of my problem. I still probably wouldn’t get more than 5 or 6 stations, though.

    2. That’s cool. I got the Internet.

      1. And, as Rhywun points out, you’re either overpaying, completely at the whims of complicated layers of network providers, or both.

        Not that you aren’t subject to whimsical and byzantine bureaucracy from OTA broadcasters, but depending on where you live, it’s a $30-100 lifetime subscription.

        1. Cool story, but literally everything is on the internet and I pay $50 for constant 3.0 mb/s (effectively, I admit it isn’t the advertised speed I pay for). Compare that fiber optic line to cable TV and you would be a chump not to choose the internet. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to rural area’s that can’t get DSL but surprise they probably can’t get cable there either in my real world experience.

          Not that cable is crap, but you end up paying a lot more for a lot of shit you’ll literally never watch.

          1. Read the thread. OTA means radio wave broadcast not cable. Also, get in touch with reality, you can get broadcast *and* the internet.

            My employer pays for $60 for an advertised 10 mb/s. The problem is, if I want to watch the Cubs or the Sox or the Blackhawks or most any live college sports or anything from CBS, NBC, AMC, etc. I have to add an ~$10 monthly layer on top of my bill or wait 2-3 seasons for distribution rights (not to mention pay Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc. *another* $10). If I haven’t paid for Netflix or Amazon, I have to pay again if I want to watch Man In The High Castle or Stranger Things. Even if I were going to steal it, I’ve got to pony up for added network privacy.

            OTA may not, in and of itself, let me choose when I get to watch something but the fact that I can (e.g.) watch the Simpsons live for a *one-time* fee of $30 for the antenna makes it more than cost effective. Adding in Cubs home games, Blackhawks games, and all the network stuff that the family watches only clinches the deal.

            I’m not saying anyone should go without the internet. I’m just saying in the era of a la carte entertainment, OTA still has a lot of advantages to offer. Especially for the price.

            1. If I lived somewhere where I got more channels, I’d definitely use OTA TV more. But I’d still keep my Netflix and Amazon subscriptions too. One really isn’t a substitute for the other.

              Mostly I’m just not missing TV. I’m not a huge sports fan and I find that not knowing what shows are on network TV has not left a big hole in my life.

    3. I find the opposite. I have an amplified antenna and I actually have to turn OFF the amplifier for most VHF stations because it’s giving it too much power and interfering with the signal. I can’t get most UHF channels without turning on the amplifier. I can still get the blowtorches like Univision, CW, and Ion without it. The 4 PBSs are spotty without it, depends on the weather. But I think it’s just because the main networks are on VHF and they have more powerful transmitters.

      1. What you think of as your VHF channels may not truly be VHF.

        The channel number you see on the TV is no indication any more. Its not uncommon for a channel 2-6 to really be broadcasting on UHF 13+ but they kept their virtual channel number as their pre-digital channel number for people’s convenience.

        VHF is actually using less power to transmit than UHF. Typically VHF is limited to under 160kw or less. UHF can use up to 1MW.

        1. And the FCC limits how much power the stations can transmit with. In Chicago’s case where an old VHF channel is still on VHF, their digital signal was only clean for about 20 miles, then the quality was compromised enough digitally that ATSC tuners couldn’t get a consistent signal and the TV channel scan function couldn’t find it. The station when analog was transmitting at 4kw (channel 2) and asked the FCC for permission to go to 8kw. The FCC let them go to 4.4kw. Which let the signal travel digitally-clean for another 5 miles. (The metro is realistically a 45-50 mile radius.)

          Then the FCC let them go to another VHF channel but are still limited to about a 25-30-mile range. They finally paid a UHF station in town to let them be a subchannel – although it’s a low-power UHF station and the bit rate is compromised because it’s a subchannel. But it gets them additional coverage (mostly in skyscraper areas).

          The problem is the FCC rules started to become out-dated BEFORE digital TV. When TV tuners started to become micro-processor based, electronic interference was introduced. That’s about the time people got fed up with crummy reception and switched to cable TV. Now the FCC requires TV sets to use microprocessor tuning, but the transmission rules are still based on analog interference.

  5. Still no mention of the “privacy” hullabaloo from last week? The issue itself is of similar unimportance as this UHF BS, but the media/ leftist response is noteworthy in its apeshitting antics.

  6. I thought TV went the way of the book store.

  7. You know what limits viewer choice? Those mandatory shitty E/I programs that are neither educational or informative that are just a crony sop to the producers of those shows. But if we’re going to have them why doesn’t the Reason Foundation provide free libertarian E/I programming to the stations?

  8. since the government required Digital broadcast many parts of the U.S. no longer receive over the air signals and have to use satellite delivery and I believe there are only two of those wheres the competition for that. I wish there was more competition in Satellite TV. And for those who suggest going to internet where I live there is no cable, no internet and no cell reception and no over the air tv reception. I guess I could always move but then its nice where I Live.

    1. How did you post this comment?

      1. carrier pigeon

        1. carrier squirrel

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