FCC approves TV technology that gives better pictures but less privacy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to allow broadcasters to voluntarily use a new technology to improve picture quality and allow better reception on mobile phones and give advertisers dramatically more data about viewing habits.

Thanksgiving Day holiday shoppers line up with television sets on discount at the Target retail store in Chicago, Illinois, November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/File Photo

The new standard, dubbed ATSC 3.0, would allow for more precise geolocating of television signals, ultra-high definition picture quality and more interactive programming.

Current televisions cannot carry the new signal and the FCC only requires broadcasting both signals for five years after deploying the next-generation technology.

“That means every one of us will need to replace our television sets or buy new equipment,” said Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “The FCC calls this approach market driven. That’s right — because we will all be forced into the market for new television sets or devices.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended the proposal, calling concerns about buying new devices “hypothetical.” He added five years is “a long time. We’ll have to see how the standard develops.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc (SBGI.O) last month called the new standard “the Holy Grail” for the advertiser because it tells them who is watching and where.

Last month, Democratic U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell raised privacy concerns about the data the new TVs could collect about viewers.

The standard uses precision broadcasting and targets emergency or weather alerts on a street-by-street basis. The system could allow broadcasters to wake up a receiver to broadcast emergency alerts. The alerts could include maps, storm tracks and evacuation routes.

The new standard would also let broadcasters activate a TV set that is turned off to send emergency alerts.

One issue is whether broadcasters will be able to pass on the costs of advanced broadcast signals through higher retransmissions fees and demand providers carry the signals.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents Tegna Inc (TGNA.N), Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O), CBS Corp (CBS.N), Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O) and others, petitioned the FCC in April 2016 to approve the new standard. “This is game-changing technology for broadcasting and our viewers,” the group said Thursday.

Many companies have raised concerns about costs, including AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N). Cable, satellite and other pay TV providers “would incur significant costs to receive, transmit, and deliver ATSC 3.0 signals to subscribers, including for network and subscriber equipment,” Verizon said.

Many nations are considering the new standard. South Korea adopted the ATSC 3.0 standard in 2016.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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