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NAB 2016: FCC Chairman Talks Next-Gen TV, Wireless Auction

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The technology for ATSC 3.0 is in place, said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Now the question is how it will impact the marketplace.

Wheeler spoke today at the 2016 NAB conference in conversation with NAB executive committee member Marci Burdick.

"The technology, kudos. I've been hearing about 3.0 for a long time and it's happening," Wheeler said. "Hooray for the new technology."

Currently in testing, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0 standard will bring 4K (3840 x 2160) 60 fps resolution to over-the-air broadcasts, however it will break backwards compatibility with existing televisions. It's expected to go public within the decade. While Wheeler was enthused about the technology, he noted that there are still questions about what to do with older sets that only support ATSC 1.0.

Much of the discussion centered on the ongoing Incentive Auction of wireless spectrum. Wheeler chose his words carefully. While he doesn’t know how long the auction will take (the NAB estimates many years), Wheeler says he'll have an idea of the dollar value of the auctioned spectrum by June, and that will set the stage for the next phase of the auction.

"This is designed to pair supply and demand, and we don't know what that's going to be," Wheeler said. The wireless industry has been clamoring for more spectrum, and now it's up to them to step forward and bid on the inventory, he said. If they don't bid enough, he's committed to restarting the process. Giving a small hint as to what he's seeing, he noted that companies are indeed showing up so far.

On the issue of cable carriage agreements, something that often leaves subscribers without access to favorite channels, Wheeler said, "What has happened is that too often corporate bickering has resulted in consumer harm." He called it an important issue and said the FCC hoped to arrive at a settlement by the end of the year.

The FCC's proposal to open up the cable box market didn't come up during the discussion.                        

"Broadcasting knits us together. It's always knitted us together," Wheeler said.

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