Hurricane Matthew shows need for FCC action on next-generation television

This past weekend more than 20 million Americans were affected by the path of Hurricane Matthew. The storm left in its wake billions of dollars’ worth of damage and caused power outages affecting more than two million residents of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina – damage that could last for several more days or weeks.

Tragically, dozens of Americans lost their lives.  But it could have been much worse.

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Thanks to the work of first responders in partnership with first informers” -- local television and radio broadcasters -- millions were safely evacuated. As they have been doing for more than 75 years, local television and radio station meteorologists and reporters provided their viewers and listeners with real-time, life-saving information on the storm’s path, available evacuation routes, updates from government officials and more.

Whether it was over-the-air, online or on social media, local broadcasters fulfilled their mission of providing information in the public’s interest -- before, during and after the storm. These local broadcasters made critical information available through a variety of content platforms, leveraging these wonderful new technologies to the benefit of their viewers.

But what if these platforms were unavailable?  Where does the public turn when there is no Internet or cell service, or if the power goes out? What is the lifeline?  It has happened before and it will surely happen again.

Whether it is severe weather events like Hurricane Matthew, tornadoes in the Midwest, or domestic terrorist attacks, local broadcasters are the lifeline of support. It is a lifeline in need of the very best technology in today’s media landscape in order to ensure critical information is distributed in every way possible.

Next Generation Television (ATSC 3.0) offers the opportunity for our communication lifeline to be upgraded to the latest technology. With this new standard, television broadcasters can provide viewers with mobile television, hyper-local emergency alert information, and 4K quality signals. The television industry has worked hard to finalize a next-generation standard and the time is now for the FCC to approve this new standard. The FCC must allow America’s first informers to begin building the next generation of television and the next generation of the nation’s emergency alert system. This is a good public policy imperative.

In the past few days, Hearst Television stations in West Palm Beach, Orlando-Daytona, and Savannah have received hundreds of notes of appreciation from viewers and local authorities recognizing the invaluable service that local broadcasters provided. I am sure many of our colleagues on the Eastern Seaboard have received the same notes of gratitude for their coverage of Hurricane Matthew as it made its way up the coast. It is time for the FCC to provide similar recognition and advance Next Generation Television.

Jordan Wertlieb is president of Hearst Television, where he is responsible for overseeing Hearst TV stations, digital properties and two radio stations across 39 states reaching over 21 million U.S. television households. He currently serves as the vice chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) Television Board, is a past president-chairman of the NBC Affiliate Board and is a past chairman of the Maryland/DC/Delaware Broadcasters Association.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.