FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Points to Big Changes Ahead for Television

Tom Wheeler FCC
AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke

Next-gen TV and spectrum auction likely to transform television and how Americans receive it

Major changes are coming to American television and the way Americans get it.

That wasn’t exactly the message Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler set out to deliver in addressing the National Assn. of Broadcasters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but he outlined a combination of changes that will shift TV toward a next-generation standard, introduce new services via TV signals and move stations to different frequencies.

Wheeler told the crowd that he intends for the FCC to put the next-generation TV standard, ATSC 3.0, up for public notice by the end of the month. “I think what you have proposed in terms of ATSC 3.0 is really significant,” said Wheeler. “We need to move with dispatch to get that into the public debate and to start the process on that.”

According to the FCC website: “The FCC gives the public notice that it is considering adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject and seeks the public’s comment. The Commission considers the comments received in developing final rules.”

The announcement received enthusiastic applause from the audience, made up mostly of broadcasters. The ATSC 3.0 standard would allow TV stations to be viewed on mobile devices, include 4K Ultra-HD picture and multichannel sound, and enable interactive services. NAB Chairman Gordon Smith said in his State of the Industry address Monday that the org is petitioning the FCC to allow voluntary adoption of the new standard.


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The other major change Wheeler acknowledged will come at the end of the spectrum auction process now underway. Once spectrum is re-allocated from TV stations to wireless carriers, many television stations will have to move on the dial. Wheeler has previously raised the possibility that every TV station in the country would have to move.

Asked about that, Wheeler explained that he was pointing out that that was one possible outcome of the spectrum auction.

Wheeler said he is forbidden by law to reveal the numbers of broadcasters who have put up spectrum in the reverse auction and declined to speculate on how many billions of dollars it will bring them. “This is a market,” he said. “This is designed to pair supply and demand. We don’t know what that’s going to be. The wireless industry has had a constant mantra: ‘We need spectrum.’

“Very shortly they’re going to see that there is a significant chunk of spectrum available to them. Whether they step and bid for it, which will determine those numbers, will determine how serious they are about ‘We need spectrum.’” If wireless carriers don’t bid enough to clear the spectrum they want, he said, “Okay, we’ll back up, we’ll ratchet down the clear, and we’ll start the process again. And we’ll do it again and again, for as long as it takes for the market to work.”

Wheeler did offer a hint about the progress of the auction, calling it an “extravaganza.”

“You can read into that whatever you want,” he said, “but the people have shown up. And you’ll see that at the end of this month.” He warned though that the real work will come after the auction is completed, at which time stations will have 39 months to complete their transition to their new frequencies.

“I’ve said all along two things: One, that if the $1.75 billion (allocated by Congress) isn’t enough, I’ll be happy to lead the parade to say that has to be changed. And if the 39 months aren’t enough, we will be deal with the specifics that get created.”

Wheeler said that while FCC is charged with serving the public interest, the meaning of that isn’t often clear. Advocates claim to be serving the public interest, he said, when it aligns with their interests. “People who come to me and say ‘Terrible government regulation! Except for this one little thing right here.” Lobbyists predict catastrophe if their proposal isn’t adopted. “I’ve done that myself,” admitted Wheeler.

He said upon hearing the Pope talk about the common good, “I thought, that’s how we should define the public interest.”

He echoed that idea in discussing the potential of changes to retransmission fees. “Too often, corporate bickering has resulted in consumer harm. I think that’s why Congress asked us to take a look at it.

“I’m not going to pre-judge any of these issues. But ‘good faith’ was put in for a purpose of saying people of good faith can come together and avoid consumer harm. There seems to be an increase in disputes and resulting consumer harm. That’s what we have to look at.”

He avoided specifics on changes to ownership regulations, noting that the broadcasting market is likely to look different after the spectrum reallocation is complete. However, he also noted that there are strongly held beliefs among the FCC commissioners and it’s been difficult to get the necessary votes to revise ownership regs.

Addressing his own future, Wheeler said it’s too early to say whether he would like to stay on, and what might be next for him, with a year left in his term.

“I’m lucky enough to get to head this important agency at a time of incredible change in everything that we’re dealing with. And to get to deal with the ebb and flow of all of those issues. I just think you do your damndest to try to do the right thing and history will take care of itself.”

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  1. Tracy Barber says:

    The next generation gap isn’t expanding on topics just expenditures a precaution providing variety and restrictions against fraud.

  2. A Survon says:

    FCC is long overdue to break the stronghold of local TV broadcast area control over the public viewers.
    Me and millions of others have been stuck with living in one state and being forced to watch the major broadcast stations from an out of state and biased stations.
    Digital TV has its limits and when a person can prove that the signal is not strong enough they need to exempt us from their viewing area.
    Free the air waves……..

  3. David Tubb says:

    If we sniff one ounce of curtailed freedom and liberty to stay very well informed, you WILL spark a revolt, revolution, he11, its already started. Prince was very outspoken against the Globalists, to combat the people who murdered him go to the NLA website and help fight. America is about to become enslaved to the Elite (about 50 people) who intend on ruling the world through the United Nations. They can only accomplish that goal if they control our Judiciary and they already do through the BAR Association. Only the People can peacefully save America through the NLA plan, if you understand this, then you have a duty to become a leader in your community and your state.

  4. Herman Peaquist says:

    Wheeler seems to be setting the public up for a fall. If all of the television channels are moved and our current TV sets won’t receive the new channels, we would be forced to buy new TV sets–again. Nothing says that 4K HD TV would be compatible with our existing HDTV sets. We now have great television. Why screw it up?

  5. bamafan1973 says:

    Why not adjust the system where we can receive all the channels without having to have cable? These guys are nothing but crooks who have been given the key to our wallets via the government.

  6. Larry Daly says:

    Does this include more disgusting man on man gay BS on TV as well. You’re being desensitized people and you don’t even know it. Wake the Fk up ! ! !

    • You are 100% correct! I’m tired of seeing the homosexual agenda pushed at us. There are TONS of Americans who believe homosexuality is a sin. We can’t stop people from practicing homosexuality but we don’t have to change our beliefs to like what they are doing. Do it somewhere else, especially so it doesn’t negatively affect our children — who are the future of America!

  7. Tom says:

    Get rid of advertising for news and news networks, this was never suppose to happen. Also government censorship is too prevalent, it should be up to the networks to censor. I personally don’t believe anything should be censored. Charging for free airwaves, are you kidding me. How much control do these people presume they need. Were it up to me the FCC would be disbanded and the networks would be allowed to run themselves, with no government influences at all.

  8. no1hd says:

    Wireless needs more, but the service is still slow – not available everywhere and way too expensive for what is provided. AT&T and the rest of the suppliers could care less about your complaints or fees, it is take it or leave it just keep paying the rent on the equipment we force you to rent.

  9. jack says:

    Every time change like this happens the consumer ends up paying more. If the past is an indicator we will be forced to pay more.

  10. Thomas Irons says:

    Millions of American families lost TV reception after corruption at the FCC sold the superior analog signals and replaced them with inferior transmitting digital bad signals. The reception is so bad that the picture just comes and goes continually. How much were the bribes to the FCC to destroy the dependable reception? Now they are at it again.

  11. ΔζξЋҖ₩ says:

    Let me know when I can choose and pay for only the channels I watch, which numbers about 7. The rest are total garbage.

  12. Wowe says:

    The biggest scam when switching to digital was the converter boxes the tax payers had to pay for twice and they still want the same amount for them now but nobody needs them. They also suppressed the market of anyone getting a standalone digital tuner when digital televisions first came out even to this day. Look it up…

    • Espen James says:

      I actually got mine free. All I had to do was go to their website and they sent a coupon that covered the price of the converter. In fact I got two free. I don’t use it anymore because I have a HD television. Are you using a old standard TV? If you are you are missing out on a much better picture. If you are using a converter on a HDTV then the picture would be horrible since it converters digital to analog and you lose a lot of the resolution. All new TVs can receive digital signals and do not need a converter. Do you mean a digital antenna? Even if you are using a old 4:3 (old standard) the picture is still better using the converter than it would be than a show or movie filmed or formatted originally in 4:3. You can get a HDTV rather cheap now. I saw a 32″ on sale the other day for $65. Why would you want to use a old TV that has horrible resolution? Do you not use cable, satellite or internet? All of them convert to SD or HD formats without a converter box. I don’t get it are you living in a cave? You obviously are capable enough to get on the internet and make a comment. Your comment seems based on anger more than actual truth.

  13. Jerilyn Cole says:

    I wouit mayld just like to have internet for my home without a phone line than i would have television to. I already pay for one phone, I dont want to pay for another that will never be used. why would anyone want to pay double? Our government needs to just get the hell out of our every day lives and we we can live. What ever happened to free TV it may have only been a few channels but at least then there was something worth watching. This country has gone to hell for its people the last 16 years. ???humm I wonder why? Fire them all, impeach if you have to, we need someone that is for the people of this country, instead of one looking to line their own pockets. Come American people stand up as one for our rights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Fred R says:

    I am getting ready to cancel my Dish Network subscription in September 2016 and am going back to over the air television. Now will my current digital HD televisions become obsolete like when we went to digital?
    It’s like they waited for everyone to get updated to the current technology and then make it so we have to buy all new equipment again? The television industry must be laughing all the way to the bank. Wonder if there’s some kick backs going to the FCC from the television manufactures?
    What a rip off.

  15. steve o says:

    $1.75 billion (allocated by Congress). Why the hell do they need 1.75 billion for this? If they want to do it they should pay for it! They are RICH!

  16. arty1111 says:

    This was actually started quite a few years ago , when the FCC mandated that all TV stations broadcast in HD ,The reason for that was to loosen up the VHF & UHF ” Monolog” frequencies TV stations were broadcasting on,Although I do know that some of those frequencies were already reserved & allocated for other “””governmental””” uses

  17. TVMan says:

    This ism ore BS to rip the masses off and force them to buy new tech!

    I STILL haven’t gotten over the Last shift in frequencies which made ALL of my old sets worthless! I had to buy $50 convertor boxes for each and still get crappy reception which introduces dropouts and articles when viewing many channels–the ones I can Still receive, that is!

    So if I go out right now and buy a Brand New TV with the modern built-in tuner–it’ll be Worthless for receiving over-the-air TV within a couple years or whenever this new insanity goes into effect, that’s what this jackass is saying!

    No, I don’t need super-definition. I just want to receiving my local stations for the news and what not. I DON’T LIVE for TV and carrying it around and flashing it at everyone in the streets!

  18. J P Squick says:

    There is one really COOL thing the FCC can do.. Are you reading this, Chairman Wheeler?

    Remove and relocate any and all on-air TV Channel 5 and Channel 6 users (76-88 Mhz) and use the spectrum to add more FM stations. You guys can give the Treasury more $$ from doing that.

    In return, demand Congress not shut down portions of your agency. It’s ridiculous that your agency demands more compliance, yet doesn’t have the staffers to collectively enforce such.

  19. John Patrick says:

    I am sorry, I don’t trust the Federal government, I am watching for “Big Brother” to ruin the over the air television industry, drive everything to cable, then pull the plug on the availability of free speech once all the bandwidth is sold off so there is not over the air broadcasting possible.

  20. Bill Handy says:

    RE: retransmission fees, When it’s a public broadcast station which contains commercial advertising, the costs should not be charged to the cable subscriber, the broadcaster is getting benefit of additional viewers which it might not have through broadcast and therefore has the ability to charge higher rates for its as sales, if anything, the cable company should be paid a retransmission fee for giving the broadcaster additional viewers

    • Alexander Wells says:

      I agree. There is so much advertiser-supported content on cable TV now I often wonder why I should be asked to pay so much for the service.

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