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Low Power Broadcasters Highlight Diversity in Call for Cable Carriage; Lawmakers Praise Local Focus

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2009 – As Congress examines renewing legislation that mandates satellite carriage of over-the-air broadcasts, owners of low power television stations say record levels of cable and satellite subscribership necessitate their inclusion in any retransmission consent regime to promote public safety, ensure a supply of local programming and promote ownership diversity.

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WASHINGTON, February 24, 2009 – As Congress examines renewing legislation that mandates satellite carriage of over-the-air broadcasts, owners of low power television stations say record levels of cable and satellite subscribership necessitate their inclusion in any retransmission consent regime to promote public safety, ensure a supply of local programming and promote ownership diversity.

Eighty-five percent of Americans recieve television programming by way of cable or satellite, Community Broadcasters Association president Kyle Reeves told President Obama in a letter sent to the White House last weekend. Many young people have never seen a pair of rabbit ears, Reeves wrote. Instead, they increasingly choose to access video programming over broadband, cable, or satellite connections.

Reeves said this change means public interest groups that fought against allowing one entity to own multiple television stations in a market picked the wrong battle.”The true issue that impacts the diversity of ideas available to the public…is access to distribution systems,” he said.

Local programming and low power television were both matters of great concern to some members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet at a Tuesday hearing on the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Charles Marancon, D-La., both discussed the importance of local television in communicating with the public during natural disasters and chided satellite providers for not providing enough local programming to their districts.

Marancon was particularly critical of satellite television executives for their actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While a low power station owner had to fashion a makeshift antenna to broadcast information on whether or not it was safe for residents to come home, satellite providers advertised packages carrying “all stations” – but not low power.

Blackburn worried that the method by which satellite providers choose which local stations to carry – a system based on Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs) – often leaves viewers watching stations based in other cities. Those stations don’t always carry accurate emergency information, such as  tornado warnings, Blackburn said.

And Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., once a broadcast station owner himself, said he strongly supported the local mission of low power stations. Walden said the fate of the stations — which are largely denied cable and satellite carriage — is a topic important enough to warrant its own hearing.

Satellite providers haven’t lived up to promises to bring more local programming to all 210 DMAs, an angry Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., pointed out. As he flipped through documents DirecTV provided to the Federal Communications Commission during its purchase by News Corporation, Stupak reminded DirecTV vice president Bob Gabrielli of his  company’s promise to deliver all four local television stations to his district. “None [of these promises] seem to get fulfilled,” he observed.

When Gabrielli tried to deflect blame onto News Corporation, Stupak reacted angrily: “You promised [full coverage] by the end of 2008 — why didn’t you do it?”

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wondered about how much “local” programming was actually aired on local stations. DISH Network president Charles Ergan said the percentage was around 30 percent while Gabrielli said it was probably half that. Both blamed the practice of “rebroadcasting” content produced for television networks for the dearth of true local programming.

Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn suggested that any reauthorization bill should give cable and satellite television providers  a single, “unified regulatory structure” for obtaining permission to carry  television programming  into local markets. Nor should they pay different copyright royalty rates, she said. And Internet video services could be included in the unified system without a problem, Sohn added.

And while satellite executives professed eagerness to drop full power stations that don’t produce local content, the word “local” could have a meaningless definition if the FCC rules governing low power stations are extended to full power stations, CBA counsel Peter Tannenwald warned.

The FCC defines “local” content as being created within a station’s broadcast service area. Tannenwald pointed out that in some states, a live interview of the governor filmed at the state capital would not qualify as local programming. The FCC would have to “fix” the definition in a manner “contrary to market forces,” Tannenwald said.

Still, “diversity of every kind is the hallmark of [low power stations],” Reeves said. The CBA plans to prove his point Wednesday afternoon with the release of a survey showing the diversity in programming and ownership among low power television station owners. Tannenwald said the survey was commissioned in response to FCC demands for data to back up CBA’s longstanding claims regarding ownership diversity and localism.

Thirty-four percent of low power stations offer some kind of foreign language programming, the survey reports. Of those stations, 78 percent broadcast more than ten hours per week in foreign languages. And many of those stations broadcast entirely non-English language programming.

Local programming is a mainstay of low power TV, with 83 percent of stations airing some kind of locally-oriented shows. Of that 83 percent, nearly half air more than 10 hours of local programming per week, consisting of a broad cross-section featuring news, general entertainment and political programming.

But 62 percent of those stations lack the  cable or satellite carriage required to reach most Americans, the CBA survey revealed.

However, as cable systems transition to switched digital systems, future capacity would be “virtually limitless,” Reeves said.  “Carriage of our stations will no longer impair any right or ability of anyone else to speak or be heard.”

President Obama should “exhort the FCC and Congress to make [low power TV] part of the television mainstream,” Reeves said. “A hand reached out to us will be a hand reached out to an industry that exists to serve the public, with minority ownership, owner participation in operations, and significant amounts of local and foreign language programming.”

When asked about carrying more low power stations during an interview Wednesday, Gabrielli said that while DirecTV does carry a number of low power local stations, the company would “love to make marketing decisions based on what consumers want.” But DirecTV  is bound to carry many full power broadcasters under must-carry rules, he said.

Susan Eid, senior vice president for government affairs at DirecTV told us DirecTV was aware that must-carry stations carry “significantly less” content than low power stations. Some stations spend much of their weekend airtime on infomercials, she said, calling them a “colossal waste of spectrum.” Gabrielli agreed that low power stations have “truly unique content” that deserves carriage. A change in must-carry rules to further define local programming would “give them a seat on the bus,” he said.

But National Association of Broadcasters CEO David Rehr said  while low power television plays “an important role” and wished that they could participate in the hearings, he flatly denied DirecTV’s assertions about local program.  “[Eid’s statements] are simply not the case,” he said.

“Local broadcasters are doing local news…weather…and sports…[Eid’s argument] is just a non-starter as far as I’m concerned,” he said. Rehr said the reason low power stations don’t get carriage because they are “distinct entities” with a different place in the market as defined by FCC rules.

But NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow said must-carry is unconstitutional and programming should be a choice left between the provider and consumer. But if we are to have must-carry, McSlarrow agreed there should be a “compelling public policy rationale” as to why a station is considered must-carry.  A low power station with more local content would deserve carriage more than a full power station that just goes through the motions – a “legitimate distinction,” McSlarrow said.

McSlarrow said that over time the must-carry rules would be obsolete as NCTA members go digital, freeing up capacity and moving to a switch network. “If we have that kind of capacity to offer…choice to consumers, we’re going to want to do that anyway.”

But McSlarrow said that NCTA was currently focused on using new capacity for faster  broadband networks. In such a scenario,  online video distribution could eliminate the need for stations to demand carriage.

But being able to offer consumers more programming is still “an imperative,” he said. “With more capacity…our [offerings] will empass greater numbers of diverse programming.”  And cable operators will respond to market pressures, he predicted. “If I were a cable operator…I’d want to cover the base for every possible niche…there is no question about it.”

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Expert Opinion

Leo Matysine: The Impact of C-Band on Advancements in Mobile and Fixed Broadband

As technology is more advanced and connected to everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Leo Matysine, Co-Founder of MatSing

When consumers think of 5G, often their minds automatically think mobile connectivity. The official C-Band launch this past January brought the idea of increased spectrum connectivity into the limelight. While this had been something anticipated by the telecommunications industry for years, finally seeing it come to fruition allowed the mainstream media to become invested in the benefits this 5G spectrum could offer.

When 5G was first introduced five years ago, it caught the attention of many who soon learned the challenge in speedy implementation due to strict infrastructure requirements. The introduction of C-Band provides a solution, enabling 5G upgrades while simultaneously addressing the coverage and capacity needs.

This heightened implementation will allow users to start seeing improvements across the board, but not just in the form of mobile connection. Outside of the benefits for mobile carriers, the advancements C-Band provides will enter in a new era for fixed broadband access especially in rural communities.

The need for fixed broadband was magnified during the pandemic as users need for internet access from home drastically increased. This exposed the digital divide rural communities are facing, causing it to gain traction with the White House. As a result, a new infrastructure bill aimed at improving the underlying network infrastructures was developed as fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-premise in rural settings have proven to be too expensive and impractical for wide implementation.

C-Band provides an alternative option allowing for wireless fixed broadband access through antennas. The mid-band frequency spectrum (1GHz to 6GHz) can provide rural users, both businesses and households, with options in providers and services they’ve been unable to experience previously.

C-Band also allows for higher speed and capacity

On top of the fixed broadband perspective where C-Band frequency spectrums are enabling rural connectivity, it allows for higher speed and capacity. The spectrums being utilized in the past while generating mobile coverage, had disadvantages in capacity and experience.

The mmWave spectrum (24GHz +) can transmit data at hyper speeds but only from limited distances, requiring line-of-site installations, whereas sub-1GHz offers the opposite. The mid-band spectrum C-Band falls under acts as a perfect balance, transmitting data at high speeds and capacities while providing the coverage needed to cover vast areas. Deployed with lens antenna technology, the additional capacity can be enabled with fewer antenna locations as compared to other antenna types, leading to financial advantages.

From a more localized vantage point, C-Band is now being integrated into marquee venues and stadiums. Within these smaller spaces, improved bandwidth and superior performance is essential given the concentrated number of users seeking connection and the inherent need for more content sharing. In order to support the mobile experience fans now expect from these venues, carriers and venue owners have turned to C-Band deployments.

Deployed atop the 4G/LTE foundation, the C-Band antenna builds off this functionality while adding the increased speed and capacity accustomed to the mid-band spectrum. Several venues will see increased results with these implementations allowing fans to experience a more reliable and overall better experience at their game days or concerts in the upcoming months.

Looking ahead, these milestones only mark the beginning of where C-Band implementation will take the telecommunications industry. As technology continues to become more advanced and connected to everyone and everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

Leo Matysine is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of company MatSing, the worlds leading manufacturer of large size, light weight RF lenses. MatSing introduces a new age of antenna design for the Telecommunications industry. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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5G

5G Will Help Enhance Environment Protection and Sustainability, Conference Hears

The technology has already been used by companies to monitor and make more efficient systems to reduce emissions.

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Photo of Bourhan Yassin, CEO of Rainforest Connection

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Because of its facilitation of real-time monitoring and more efficient use of systems, 5G technology will help tackle climate change and beef up environmental sustainability, an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event heard Tuesday.

5G technology’s ubiquitous connectivity and lower latency enables climate technology that decarbonizes manufacturing plants, enables rainforest monitoring, and limits greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

5G also enables real-time traffic control and monitoring that can help minimize carbon footprint, said John Hunter from T-Mobile, which has a large 5G network thanks in part to its merger with Sprint.

Finnish 5G equipment supplier Nokia has invested in smart manufacturing relying on the speed of 5G in its plants, which it said has resulted in a 10 to 20 percent carbon dioxide reduction and a 30 percent productivity improvement with 50 percent reduction in product defects.

Non-profit tech startup Rainforest Connection has used 5G technology to implant sensitive microphones into endangered rainforests in over 22 countries around the world. These microphones pick up on sounds in the forest and transmit them in real time to personnel on the ground.

These highly sensitive machines are camouflaged in trees and can pick up sounds of gunfire from poaching and chainsaws from illegal logging activity from miles away. The technology has proven to be significant in rainforest conservation and will enable researchers and scientists to find innovative solutions to help endangered species as they study the audio.

“By being able to integrate technologies such as 5G, we can accelerate that process… to achieve the mission [of mitigating climate change effects] sooner than we expected,” said Rainforest Connection CEO Bourhan Yassin.

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