Patrick Butler's Keynote Speech at 2018 ATSC Conference

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Thursday, May 24, 2018.

It’s a great honor for me to serve as the keynote speaker for a conference of people for whom I have enormous admiration.

When I told my wife that this old political science major was speaking to group of technology experts today, she suggested I simply say, “I’m sorry. There must be some mistake.”

But what I lack in technological prowess, I hope I make up for in my appreciation of your work and in my determination to maximize its benefits for broadcasters and our viewers.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee has labored for years to create a new broadcast standard by which the television industry – both public and commercial – can reinvent itself and its ability to serve the American people.

A generation ago, ATSC 1 was a dramatic breakthrough in itself, ushering in HDTV, multi-casting, datacasting, and more.

And now comes ATSC 3 — a truly extraordinary technological achievement:

vastly improving the quality of television pictures and sound,

enabling giant leaps in mobility, interactivity, channel capacity, spectral efficiency, signal penetration, and conditional access,

and setting in motion a perpetual dynamism that permits constant innovation in a revolutionary IP-based platform that combines broadcast and broadband technology for the first time.

You know all this, better than anyone. What you may not know, or at least fully appreciate, is the good your handiwork will do in years to come, in the hands of public broadcasters dedicated to the public interest.

I am here today to offer the first glimpses of what we in Public Television intend to do with the marvel you have wrought.

We have been rooting for your success for years.

America’s Public Television Stations were pleased to play a part in encouraging the expeditious consideration and approval of this exciting new standard by the Federal Communications Commission.

This accelerated process has made it possible for both public and commercial television stations to synchronize our post-auction repacking assignment with the purchase of equipment needed to make the transition to ATSC 3.
That goal seemed elusive, if not entirely illusory, when the spectrum auction was ordered six years ago.

It is a great credit to everyone in this room and your hundreds of colleagues throughout the nation and the world – broadcasters, equipment manufacturers, the consumer electronics industry, experts in allied fields, and all of our lawyers – that we could make ATSC 3 happen just in time.

And you have saved the relentlessly non-profit world of public television a great deal of effort — and a great deal of money, earned one pledge at a time — by completing the entire suite of Next Gen standards on a remarkably rapid schedule.

America’s Public Television Stations were so taken by your work that we gave ATSC president Mark Richer, on your collective behalf, our highest technology award at the Public Media Summit this past February:  the 2018 Edge Award for Excellence in Innovation.

We are proud to count Mark as an alumnus of public television, having spent 16 years at PBS as vice president of engineering and computer services.

Thanks to Mark’s work and that of many others in our system, public television has been a pioneer in technological change throughout our history:

We were the first broadcasters to adopt closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

We were first to provide descriptive video services for the blind.

We were first to offer multicast signals on digital spectrum.

We have been pioneers in public safety datacasting.

And we co-sponsored the first pilot program to demonstrate how channel sharing could work in the context of the spectrum auction.

Public television is ready now to take full advantage of all the new service and business opportunities that ATSC 3 makes possible.

Indeed, we have already begun.

WKAR-TV, the public television station licensed to Michigan State University, has applied to the FCC for Special Temporary Authority to establish an experimental facility on vacant channel 35 in East Lansing and test ATSC 3 applications that will be available to all public television stations.

WKAR and Michigan State are setting up a Next Gen Media Innovation Lab to experiment with applications in distance learning and health, automated remote control of irrigation for farming, local news, emergency preparedness and connected vehicles.

And WKAR has developed a partnership with the Lansing School District to provide every kindergartner with a tablet loaded with educational games from PBS Kids, using the interactivity and mobility features of ATSC 3.

With our friends at the Pearl Group and others, we are participating through Arizona PBS in the Phoenix Model Market Initiative to demonstrate how the transition from ATSC 1 to ATSC 3 can be accomplished in a single market.

Arizona PBS, licensed to Arizona State University, also intends to show how interactivity for educational purposes can be enhanced by ATSC 3, and how Next Gen conditional access can improve the delivery of rich content to first responders in public safety.

And working with our friends at WRAL and Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh, and with the North Carolina Office of Information Technology, UNC-TV -- the state network licensed to the University of North Carolina -- has just broadcast the first successful emergency announcement from a 911 dispatch center using ATSC 3 technology.

Your work has made it possible for us to send much more information, in much less time, to many more points of emergency response. This technology will save lives, and you made it happen. 

In California, we are working with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Communications, using our powerful broadcast signals behind the scenes to improve the State’s earthquake warning capacity.

Thanks to the leadership of KVIE-TV in Sacramento, public television has demonstrated its capacity to use datacasting to deliver critical early earthquake warnings in less than 3 seconds – the first time that standard has ever been achieved.

Soon every public television station in California will be equipped to provide this same life-saving service — making it available to more people on more devices, and even faster, with ATSC 3.

In Texas, Houston Public Media is partnering with all the law enforcement and emergency communications agencies in Houston and Harris County to improve public safety through datacasting in everything from daily police patrols to extraordinary security challenges like the Super Bowl and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Through a partnership with the US Department of Homeland Security, we’re working on similar projects in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and right here in Washington, DC.

And in all these places, the content will be richer, the response time faster, and the entire system substantially more mobile and interactive with the advent of ATSC 3.

Emergency alerts that are only available in text today will soon be augmented by AWARN evacuation route maps, instructions for sheltering in place during a weather emergency, school blueprints to help focus response to shooting incidents, and much more.

In addition to enhancing our educational and public safety missions, the enlarged channel capacity made possible by ATSC 3 will enable public television stations to do a great deal more in our third pillar of public service: civic leadership.

We already serve as the “C-SPAN” of many state governments, and more channel capacity will enable us to provide this service in more states and in greater depth.

We already produce thousands of hours of programming on local public affairs, local history and local culture every year – and more channel capacity will allow us to create whole channels dedicated to life in America’s hometowns.

We already host hundreds of candidate debates, at every level of the election ballot, and ATSC 3 will make possible “democracy channels” that give all of our viewers access to all the information they need to perform their sacred duty of citizenship in the world’s most important democracy.

With all of these improvements in our core public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership in view, public television is eager to embrace ATSC 3 and to do everything we can do to speed its widespread adoption.

We also see potential opportunities for new revenue from the use of whatever spectrum we may not need for broadcast and public service purposes.

As we have been encouraged to do for decades by the Congress and the FCC, we are in discussions now with several potential partners to explore ways in which we can provide “supplementary and ancillary” services that ATSC 3’s spectral efficiency, mobility and interactivity make possible.

The Public Broadcasting Act mandates that public television provide universal service, to everyone everywhere in America, and over the past fifty years we have built a system that meets this mandate every day.

We are, by far, the largest “station group” in America, and our ubiquity, history, integrity and reliability can be powerful assets in both public service and the entrepreneurship ATSC 3 encourages.

Working closely with our colleagues at PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, APTS is prepared to serve as the agent of our 170 licensees and as the aggregator of spectrum for purposes that fit our values and fortify our financial security. 

At our urging, public television stations made an industry-wide commitment of 1 Megabit per second to support FirstNet two years ago, and we are ready to do more.

We know we are only at the beginning of a long process of transition and adoption. 

We in public television expect to spend most of 2018 on station education, 2019 on experimentation, and 2020 on implementation.

We want to learn how to do everything that ATSC 3 can help us do:

— reinvent distance learning by sending high-quality educational content in vast quantities to schools and homes in the most remote areas of our country;

— empower our joint television and radio licensees to seamlessly combine video and audio content;

— generate deeper engagement with our viewers through better audience measurement and verification;

— localize and personalize programming choices in ways we could only dream of a year ago;

— and more.

But we are ready now to consider every new opportunity that ATSC 3 affords, ready to be partners and pioneers with everyone in this room and anyone else who has a good idea for us to consider.

And we encourage everyone in the broadcast industry to adopt this standard, and get to scale, as quickly as possible so everyone can enjoy the benefits of the platform you’ve built.

We are grateful to you for giving us this exciting new lease on life, and we look forward to making the most of the miracle you have performed.

One needs no technological skill to appreciate what you’ve done to help us teach our children, strengthen our democracy, and save countless lives.

I have never meant it more when I say:

Thank you very much.