Last week, Business News Americas broke the story that the ATSC Forum — the industry group that lobbies for the international adoption of the US ATSC digital TV standard of the Advanced Television Systems Committee — plans to close its doors at the end of September.

Although the ATSC Forum’s closure has gotten little attention in the US, the story has been picked up in South America, where the ATSC Forum’s lobbying efforts have been swamped by momentum for the Japanese-Brazilian ISDB system (an under-reported story in itself, as some are recognizing).
The ATSC Forum was “established in late 2001 to promote DTV and ATSC standards, especially throughout Latin America”, and has lobbied other countries, including the Philippines, as have rivals European-led DVB and Japanese-led ISDB.  And as quoted below, the Forum has cleverly worded a fantasy strategy to skirt patent fees that will no doubt bring a chuckle on close examination.

Recent strident exception the ATSC Forum has taken to contentions here that there are structurally-flawed patent licensing processes at the heart of ATSC and DTV communities (reiterated below as recently as last month in Haiti, see below), puts an interesting light on the reported reasoning that the ATSC Forum is giving for closing its doors:

“manufacturing companies that represent the ATSC are now less concerned about which digital TV standard the equipment they make represents and so are increasingly less inclined to finance a group advocating one standard or another”.

Really?  Surely, specific patent or commercial interests may be the last standing in an end-game of standards advocacy, particularly when interests are unclearly spread across multiple standards and advocacy groups.

And though the ATSC Forum website does not list which members are sponsors ($25K/year) or just general members ($5K/year), four vendors appear prominent at the website in recent years (Zenith/LG, Samsung, Dolby, and Harris).  Three, as well as the ATSC Forum and the ATSC, have filed in the FCC inquiry on patent royalty overcharging challenged by the CUT FATT group, and Harris, the largest transmission equipment supplier for ATSC, turned against certain patent licensing practices and sided with the CUT FATT group.

But according to government reports, in 2003, the ATSC Forum received $399K in export promotion market development funds from the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce.  Ouch –  patent pool promotion as export trade policy.

Indeed, a 2004 success story at the US Department of Commerce Market Development Cooperator Program website describes the 3-year campaign in optimistic terms, predicting $8 billion in US exports (subsequently revised down to $5.6 million).  And also in terms that likely seemed entirely reasonable at the time, but which now seem vaguely like a fight-the-last-war replay of the 1960s Cold War color TV standards wars — little resembling the new globalization-era, each-country-is-a-partner ethic reflected in the launch of the new ISDB-T International Forum web site for South America.

And in 2007, the US National Association of Broadcasters funded a mobile TV initiative for $750K with many did-they-learn-the-right-lessons parallels to the ATSC Forum.

So the ATSC Forum is leaving unfinished business and (potentially) unlearned lessons:

Patent Licensing Processes Need Reform.
Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband Needs Uncaptured Standards.
The Curious Rebirth of Free TV Needs Tending.
US Mobile TV Risks Institutionalizing Same Mistakes.
Network policy in the broadband age should promote a global level playing field

In sum, the Network Policy Techno-Politics mix is still out of balance — but to ATSC Forum’s credit they have included technical reasoning along with political advocacy — something that recent FCC broadband dialog seems to lack so far.

To quote Richard Elkus’ 2008 “Winner Take All: How Competitiveness Shapes the Fate of Nations” (it was Elkus who in 1988 sounded the call that US digital TV policy may “reflect the ebbing tide of United States technological and economic leadership”):

“All of America’s technological industries and institutions are linked. … Strategy is everything.”


“Patent license fees are not important in the selection of a DTV transmission standard …. For almost every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, no patents apply for products manufactured and sold within that country”

ATSC Digital Television Update, Robert K. Graves, Chairman, ATSC Forum, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, August 7, 2009,

“But almost none of the patents that apply in the U.S. have been filed in the Philippines, so IP fees will be far less in the Philippines than the small fees that apply in the U.S.

Dolby has indicated that it has not registered its AC-3 patents in the Philippines, and consequently, Dolby cannot, and will not, charge patent royalties for products that are manufactured and sold in the Philippines (or on products bought from or sold to other non-patent countries by the Philippines).

The ATSC Standard incorporates the VSB transmission system developed by Zenith Electronics. However, no Zenith patents associated with VSB have been filed in the Philippines (compared to 13 in North America), so there can be no IP license fee associated with the VSB transmission system for products produced and sold in the Philippines.”

Response of the ATSC Forum to the Consultative Document on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) of the National Telecommunications Commission Department of Transportation and Communications Republic of the Philippines,  October 30, 2006

I’ve pointed out how the EBU, the world’s largest organization of national broadcasters, is beating the drum to avoid patent lock-ins in new standards for hybrid broadcast-broadband TV services.

EBU’s own write-up of last week’s EBU/ETSI workshop is even more direct:

“Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP … This time this has to be avoided.”

The EBU should take a closer look at Ginga and Java DTV, which have taken the MHP patent issue head-on …


Licensing will be key for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband

10 September 2009

“… Finally there was an interactive discussion with the packed audience. Two important areas emerged from the discussions. The first was the need for attention to licence fees in these new systems. Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP five years after services had begun, and which was responsible for missed opportunities for its use. This time this has to be avoided. Particulary for the hybrid broadcasting area where the world is used to licence free Internet systems.”

“More Democratic” … “It is a matter of social justice”

So US ambassadors have lobbied South American governments since 2007 that “[t]he issue is whether the government will choose the [ATSC] digital television standard that is already providing the highest quality, lowest cost, and most democratic opportunities …”

In recent months Peru, Argentina, and now Chile have turned down ATSC for the Japanese-Brazilian ISDB digital TV system, so it is worth asking the somewhat inconvenient question of how did a controversial, pricey, and generally questionable digital television patent pool drift into becoming a US diplomatic cause for democracy slash trade policy?

And whether this advocacy should be carried forward under the leadership of the newly-appointed Ambassador Philip Verveer of the US State Department’s International Communication and Information Policy (CIP) group as it was by his predecessor David A. Gross, who as late as February 2008, advocated in an op-ed column published in Chile:

“During my recent visit to Chile, I met with decision-makers from the government, the National Congress, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the media. I explained the clear advantages of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standard: a significant better quality and coverage and a lower cost”

The CIP is one of seven issue-oriented organizations within the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  In addition to Verveer, tech industry veteran Lorraine Hariton has just just been appointed Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.

There is a lot of food for thought for the new team at CIP on this topic:

– trade policy and standards capture
broadband-broadcast convergence bridging a global digital divide
global level playing field network policy in the broadband age

To name a few.  Here’s to hoping the new CIP team will dig in, update outdated thinking, and lean forward!


The Opportunity for Chile in the Digital Television Age
Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy, February 14, 2008:

“More Democratic: For technical reasons, the ATSC standard allows for a much greater number of broadcast stations to operate in a given area, thereby allowing for new broadcast stations and more types of additional broadcasts such as educational programming. “

American ATSC Digital TV Standard Offers Chile Advantages of Accessibility, Lower Costs, and Higher Quality”, March 16, 2007:

“Ambassador Kelly pointed out that ATSC offers Chile the unique opportunity of approaching the information society for all its citizens. He noted that the American standard “is much more flexible and open to future changes at reasonable and accessible costs to all.” “It is a matter of social justice that all citizens are able to participate and are guaranteed access,” he emphasized.”

Remarks to the Commercial Association of Sao Paulo (ACSP)
E. Anthony Wayne,  U.S. Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 6, 2006:

I’d like to briefly discuss Brazil’s vibrant telecommunications industry. I understand that President Lula is going to announce the selection of the Brazilian digital TV standard soon.

Of the several options on the table, we believe the ATSC standard [Advanced Television Systems Committee (the North American standard for digital TV, including high-definition)] offers the best combination of economic, social, and technical advantages. It has been adopted by the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South Korea. These countries that have adopted the ATSC standards are seeing a rapid increase in the sales of high definition television products. Brazil’s adoption of the ATSC standard will ensure a hemispheric standard, creating a market of 800 million people for DTV products and services.

The U.S. No longer manufactures television sets. This poises Brazil to supply high definition television sets, converter boxes, and transmission equipment throughout the Hemisphere. Brazil’s potential role as a leading supplier will help create high-paying, highly-skilled jobs and significant economic development.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation has set aside $150 million for U.S. Companies to invest in information technology development projects in Brazil. And U.S. Companies have already expressed their intention of making significant investments in ATSC-related manufacturing in Brazil.

ATSC’s open development process ensures Brazil a significant role in the evolution of the standard. Evolving ATSC standards present great opportunities for Brazilian-U.S. And Brazilian-South Korean collaboration and partnership.

A “Julius Stonian” observation:  standards groups aren’t “consensus organizations”, they are political organizations. Winners declare their way the “consensus”, and changes in political context shift the “consensus”.

So reflects calls in several slides at yesterday’s Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband (HBB) workshop to look deeper into Intellectual Property Rights and other control points in the new “broadcast+broadband” (aka OTT TV) standards initiatives.

Cases in point:  UK Project Canvas, see filing here, and HBBTV, a “consortium” claiming pan-European fait accompli authority that is questioned by the European Broadcasting Union’s workshop slides.
So Stonian kudos to MHEG vendor S&T and the EBU for frank, to-the-political-point, what’s-in-it-for-me observations:

  • “Do you know what IPR issues exist in new initiatives like HBBTV??? (S&T slide 45)
  • “IPR and patent issues shall be resolved prior to rolling out the HBB services” (EBU slide 9)
  • “Unresolved IPR issues (particularly “submarine” patents)” (EBU slide 28)

The EBU’s observations are perhaps most interesting, because they draw from a February 2009 EBU recommendation and initiative, cited below, that cuts to the chase of many of the fundamental political and policy interests that are at stake when “broadcast meets broadband”, many of which don’t fit neatly into the current standards landscape status quo, but require both regulatory oversight and clear, direct articulation of broadcasters interests (as well as other interests, public and private).


EBU’s observations are a frank step ahead of the BBC’s have-it-both-ways “standards-based

open environment” double talk challenged here (although neatly respected by Andrew Burke here), and miles ahead of the US ATSC Forum’s recent tepid “almost-as-good-as Europe” defense.

So who is Julius Stone?

Since his death in 1985, the influence of Julius Stone, one of the 20th century’s great legal scholars, has enjoyed a strange yet welcome renaissance.

Yorkshire born in 1907 of Lithuanian Jewish refugees, his first of 27 books, “International Guarantees of Minority Rights”, was published when he was only 25, and is still considered “the most authoritative and objective work in its field”.

From 1942 on an Australian law professor, Stone’s half-century of jurisprudence  once seemed destined to drift to dated obscurity. A review of a 1992 biography questioned the wisdom of bothering with a biography at all, since “as the spheres are aligned in the academic firmament today, Julius Stone’s star is not burning particularly brightly”.

But the generations he marked knew better, including this writer who was blessed in law school by Stone (he taught part-time in the US after his retirement) assigning one of his last books, “Conflict Through Consensus”, a thin dissection entirely unlike other law school casebooks whose title alone knifed a foolishness of his century, the 51 year quest to legalistically define the term “agression” to whitewash some of the century’s greatest criminal acts.

To this day the title “Conflict through Consensus” rings like an alarm in my head whenever I see such cover-up terms as “consensus organization” bandied about in standards groups process documents.  Of course there is no consensus when there is conflict, and only a nitwit self-deceiving “expert” couldn’t see, as Stone once far more artfully put it, “the realities disclosed by an examination of the definition.”

In 1999 an Institute of Jurisprudence was founded in Stone’s name, and nowadays the
accolades flow.

And a heavyweight annual lecture series that features dense yet topical speechs on international jurisprudence, such as one by a Harvard law professor warning of the dangers when “[w]e underestimate the power of expert consensus” or by a St Johns’ law professor on how overstated notions of “legal pluralism” mislead in a “new lex mercatoria” of pseudo-governmental venues.

The common Stonian thread?  A warning, really, of the dangers of overbelief, particularly in an international organizational context, as conditions evolve.  Overbelief in a status quo of expert consensus. Overbelief in the ultimately deluding dead-end thought process that others might be fooled by a “consensus covering up conflict”.  Overbelief in misleading notions of “legal pluralism” that see in the status quo of international organizations some sort of law, rather than just behavior.

So cut the “pan-European consortium” PR happy talk, folks, and put the interests on the table (here’s how).  Who owns what, and who will get what?  The EBU has had the courage and insight to do as much; so should everyone else.


“I begin with a simple “Julius Stonian” observation: the international world is governed.   The domain outside and between nation states is neither an anarchic political space beyond the reach of law, nor a domain of market freedom immune from regulation.   Our international world is the product and preoccupation of an intense and ongoing project of regulation and management.”

David Kennedy (Harvard Law School professor), “Challenging Expert Rule: The Politics of Global Governance”, in 2004 Julius Stone Memorial Address, Sydney Australia.

European Broadcasting Union Recomendation, “Television in a Hybrid Broadcast/Broadband Environment”, February 2009,

“The EBU recommends that EBU Members must foster, in cooperation with the industry and standardization bodies, the development of hybrid broadcast/broadband technical platforms with the necessary technical commonality to ensure the development of a European-wide
consumer market …

It is fair and reasonable that consumers should enjoy PSB [Public Service Broadcasting] ‘rich-media’ delivered over hybrid broadcast-broadband networks in the same way they consume broadcast-only content. They should be able to do so without organizations that have not contributed to the production process capitalizing on the process.

The EBU and its Members need to analyze the European and national regulatory frameworks, taking action where appropriate, to ensure that third parties associate their broadband services with EBU Member’s programmes only when authorized. For example, PSBs should retain editorial control of all content associated with their programmes (e.g. EPGs, surrounding text and rich multimedia, advertising and banners, picture-in-picture, interactive applications).”

Europe sneers at their technology.
US’s DTV transition passed them by.
BBC’s intelligentsia never noticed them.
No consumer electronics industry to match Asia;
neighbors don’t speak their language.

So how did Brazil become a world leader in digital TV?

And why the tip of the hat to Brazil DTV middleware leader TQTVD, to whom I am currently consulting?

Last week, the international press group Reuters broke the story that “Argentina adopts  Japanese digital TV standard“, but the Buenos Aires Herald got the local angle right: “Argentina adopts Brazil’s digital TV standard” — illustrated no less with a photo captioned “Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner kiss following the signing formality on adoption of a new TV standard”.

Agentina adopts Brazil ISDB

The ceremony also closed a decade’s long good-bye to the US ATSC Forum’s efforts to promote the erstwhile US digital TV standard in Argentina, South America’s 2nd largest economy, as a lynchpin to an international adoption campaign, (note to US FCCsell free TV to US first, straighten out the DTV patent mess, and connect the dot from TV to broadband).

“Que País é Esse?” (What is this country after all?) is the sui generis puzzle that BRIC watchers grapple with when this techno-politico-economic chameleon of contradictions fails to fit facile notions more easily papered from afar onto the other BRICers Russia, India, and China.  Aligned yet non-aligned, democratic with a unique heritage of monarchy, an independent cultural stew yet not a melting pot.  Moderate leadership begets confusing headlines.

dso2-threetransitionsAmong BRIC DTV strategies, Brazil so far has dodged the DTV interoperability mess sold to India by foreign technology providers with a penny-wise-pound-foolish agenda, more carefully charted its own technological contributions onto the world stage than China’s AVS group, and partnered more effectively with Japan than Russia did with France forty years ago in validating France’s SECAM TV standards gambit.

Indeed, on some fronts Brazil is tracking to the UK, the world DTV thought leader and itself a crucible of DTV contradictions.  Brazil’s interactive middleware, Ginga, is a step in the right direction ahead of UK’s MHEG standard, and BBC’s culture-for-everyman could learn a thing or two from TV Globo and other Brazilian broadcasters (long waits worth it to download English language teasers here to feel the universal appeal of “India: A Love Story” or “Seven Sins”).indiaalovestory

The national digital TV industry group, SBTVD Forum, has a similar profile to the UK’s Digital Terrestial Group.  Even bringing parallel howls of protest from pay TV operators waking up to the prospect that free-to-view TV may not die in the digital TV transition after all.

What’s next?  No need to add to broadcasting’s global mantra — coming soon to a broadband TV near you — stay tuned!


At the 2009 Brazil SET Broadcasting & Cable Conference I presented on 3 panel topics:

Slides on DTV patents below; the overall theme that Brazil has become a world DTV leader was picked up in the Brazil press here.


At the 2009 Brazil SET Broadcasting & Cable Conference I presented on 3 panel topics:

The overall theme that Brazil has become a world DTV leader was picked up in the Brazil press here.

Slides on Hybrid TV below covered the themes:

  • What is Hybrid TV?
  • Is Hybrid TV Good for FTA?
  • If Free Leads, Who Will Follow?

FTA = Free To Air = FTV = Free-To-View = free TV = advertising or public funded, no ongoing subscription


At the 2009 Brazil SET Broadcasting & Cable Conference I presented on 3 panel topics:

The overall theme that Brazil has become a world DTV leader was picked up in the Brazil press here.

Slides on learning from the Digital Switchover below covered the themes:

  • Switch Over Lessons
  • A Tale of Three Transitions
  • Global Switch Over Planning

DSO = Digital Switch Over = ASO = Analog Switch Off
= the country-by-country transition to all digital TV infrastructure, marked by planning for the cessation of analog TV broadcasting


September 1, 2009

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Re: Notice of Written Ex Parte Presentation
In the Matter of Petition for Rulemaking and Request for Declaratory
Ruling Filed by the Coalition United to Terminate the Financial Abuses of
the Television Transition, LLC
MB Docket No. 09-23

Dear Ms. Dortch:

A filing by the ATSC Forum dated May 27, 2009[1], asserts that the country of Argentina has adopted the ATSC digital TV standard [2], for which patent royalties are at issue in this proceeding.

In spite of numerous press reports indicating to the contrary, the ATSC Forum has further enforced its assertion about Argentina as follows:

“The claims in the May 27, 2009 submittal from Rob Glidden, an Internet blogger, that Argentina has abandoned the ATSC Standard and is poised to adopt the Brazilian version of the Japanese ISDB standard are not correct. Argentina adopted the ATSC Standard in 1998, but the government has changed several times since, and DTV broadcasting has not yet been implemented there. ATSC remains the official DTV broadcast standard for Argentina, and while the government is considering its options anew, no new decision has been announced. The ATSC Forum believes the chances are excellent that Argentina will reaffirm its choice of ATSC for the same compelling reasons that led to its adoption in 1998. Rob Glidden’s statements regarding the state of affairs in other Latin American countries also are incorrect for the reasons stated herein.” [3]

In light of announcements in recent days that Argentina is indeed moving forward without ATSC [4] and with the Japanese/Brazilian standard, it is instructive for the Commission to consider the actual reference to Argentina to which the ATSC Forum has taken such strident exception[5]:

“For example, it could be speculated that the Japanese DTV system moved in recent years towards becoming more aggressive through price cutting and trade deals. Countries considering ATSC began to have second thoughts, and in some cases like Argentina (originally mentioned in the 2004 ATSC patent pool plan as already having adopted ATSC[6] started to back away by 2005 [7].”

While it is entirely understandable that the ATSC Forum, a sister organization to the ATSC Committee, claims an advocacy role for the ATSC standard[8], and of course the ATSC Forum rightly recognizes that politics is politics the world over[9], the Commission should consider whether the ATSC Forum’s advocacy function overrides its claim that it “educates policymakers … regarding the benefits of DTV technology”[10], and look to more direct information sources about digital TV.

For as NPR quoted FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on August 25, 2009, three days before the Argentina announcement:

“[W]e’ve got the digital TV. Now what are we going to do with it?”[11]

In many parts of the world today, this is a question that hardly needs to be asked, for digital TV is an exciting, vibrant opportunity that inspires high interest and consideration that is striving to cut through the early roadblocks, challenges, and limitations represented by the patent and royalty issues of this proceeding. The Commission should be able to look to responsible organizations like the ATSC Forum to do more to fulfill such an education function.




cc: Sherrese Smith
Rick Chessen
Rudy Brioché
Rosemary Harold
Robert Ratcliffe
Eloise Gore
Steven Broeckaert
Alison Neplokh
Kiersten Kamman
Mary Beth Murphy
Brendan Murray


1 Reply Comments of the ATSC Forum, May 27, 2009, In the Matter of: Petition for Rulemaking and Request for Declaratory Ruling Filed By The Coalition United To Terminate Financial Abuses of the Television Transition, MB Docket No. 09-23, available at, hereinafter referred to as ATSC Forum Comments.

2 “Countries that have adopted the ATSC Standard are: Canada, Mexico, the United States, South Korea, Argentina,3 Honduras and most recently, El Salvador.” ATSC Forum Comments at 2.

3 ATSC Forum Comments at 2, n.3.

4 See for example, Kevin Gray, Fiona Ortiz, Matthew Lewis, Argentina adopts Japanese digital TV standard, August 28, 2009
“Argentina adopts Brazil’s digital TV standard”, August 28, 2009,

5 Reply Comments of Rob Glidden, May 27, 2009 at 14 (footnotes in original)

6 (“the ATSC digital television standard, which has been adopted thus far in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, Argentina and Mexico”). Mention of Argentina was dropped from subsequent mentions of the ATSC patent holders meetings at when the patent license was announced (“the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) and used in digital televisions sold in the United States, South Korea, Mexico, Canada and other countries”)”

7 According to published news reports, in September 2005 “Argentina decided to reverse its decision to adopt ATSC as the country’s terrestrial DTV standard and consider other options” Doug Lung, Argentina Favoring Brazilian Version of ISDB-T for Terrestrial DTV, September 12, 2008

Recent news reports indicate Argentina now appears close to adopting ISDB. “[L]ast week, the Argentine President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, confirmed that the country is about to follow Brazil with ISDB. “We are working to complement and agree on a common digital TV system so that part of the TV sets’ production elements can be produced in Argentina”, she announced.” Confirmed: Argentina is close to ISDB, TV TELCO Latam, April 27, 2009,

Peru Has recently chosen ISDB. See Peru chooses Japanese-Brazilian standard for digital television system, April 23, 2009,

Peru chose ISDB in part because of cost. “Jorge Cuba, the vice minister of communications explained that the Japanese-Brazilian standard had been chosen, among other reasons, for its low cost.” Israel Ruiz, Digital TV decoders to be sold in Peru for $28 in six months, Living in Peru 24 April, 2009,

8 “The ATSC Forum educates policymakers, broadcasters, equipment manufacturers, and other interested parties regarding the benefits of DTV technology and advocates adoption of the ATSC family of DTV standards. The ATSC Forum is a sister organization of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an international cross-industry organization that develops and refines standards and best practices for DTV broadcasting.” ATSC Forum Comments at 2.

9 See for example, “New digital tv technology is a ‘major defeat,’ Solanas”, September 1, 2009 ,

Argentina is seen by some as pivotal in digital TV adoption trends at least partly because it is the second largest economy of South America (, and as the largest country outside a close US geographic or political orbit cited as ATSC-supportive could be seen as a bellwether of global interest in the ATSC standard.

10 Id.

11 Joel Rose, “Promises Unkept: Disappointments In Digital TV”, August 25, 2009,