The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to allow TV broadcasters to adopt Next Generation TV technology, an Internet-Protocol-based platform that could pave the way for highly targeted television ads.
The technology will enable advances such as ultra high-def broadcasts and mobile viewing. But the FCC's move is controversial for a few reasons, including that it will also allow broadcasters to mesh some online data with TV viewing data for ad-targeting purposes.
"Next Gen TV has the potential to bring a wide range of benefits to American consumers," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday. "Through expanded service offerings and new features, Next Gen TV should enhance the free, over-the-air television service that many Americans rely on, and make it a stronger competitor to pay-TV services."
But some consumer advocates oppose the FCC's order, arguing that it could erode privacy by enabling over-the-air TV broadcasters to engage in widespread data mining.
"The FCC Order does nothing to protect consumer privacy," Harold Feld, senior vice president at the advocacy group Public Knowledge, stated Thursday.
He added that the FCC's order "primarily benefits Sinclair Broadcasting at the expense of consumers."
David Smith, executive chairman at Sinclair Broadcast Group, reportedly boasted last week that Next Gen TV will enable the company to compile "perfect data" about consumers. “We’ll know where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing -- just like you do now, just like everybody does now, the internet does, or Google, or a Facebook,” he said last week at a conference, according to Bloomberg. “We will have perfect data all the time.”
Critics also say the order could ultimately require consumers to purchase new TV sets. For the next five years, broadcasters using Next Gen TV will be required to simulcast using the current digital standards. But after the five-year transition ends, people might have to purchase new equipment to receive TV signals.
Pai characterized the critics as "naysayers," adding that they want regulations that would "strangle Next Gen TV in its infancy."
"They call for delays that they’d never conceive or countenance were the innovation pioneered by, say, Silicon Valley instead of the TV industry," Pai stated.
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who dissented from the order, said it would impose a "tax" on consumers. "Three unelected officials at the @FCC today decide to change our nation's television standard," she tweeted Thursday afternoon. "But it won't work with the television sets every one one of us has in our home today. That means everyone will have to by new equipment. So let's call that what it is: a tax."