From: "Steven Clift"
To: NTIADC40.NTIAHQ40(piac)
Date: 10/20/97 11:07am
Subject: Public Comment - Community Digital Broadcasting

Greetings Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of
Digital Television Broadcasters,

Enclosed is a recent essay that I wrote on the topic of Community
Digital Broadcasting. I am about to head to Australia and New
Zealand for a few weeks to speak about "Democracies Online" so I did
not have chance to finesse this article for you.

In short, the public interest possibilities of digital broadcasting
are tremendous. I challenge you to ask the simple question:

What "1's" and "0's" (or digital information) should be available to
all Americans through digital broadcasting?

Setting the broadcast quality video aside, the opportunity to "push"
community-oriented text, images, audio, and basic video to households
in communities must not be missed. What information - like missing
children reports, lost pets, school lunches, community meeting
notices, notices of local art exhibits, crime alerts, public health
warnings, election and basic candidate information, etc. - should be
available in the memory/storage capacity of every set-top box/digital
television? With emerging "meta-data" naming schemes emerging on
the Internet, people right down to the city/neighborhood could
establish settings on their set-top box to watch for and store
information specific to their interests. This makes the 24 hour
digital broadcast stream incredibly powerful.

The second question is how will this community content gain access to
the digital airwaves. While there will be scores of commercial
digital push efforts, what about non-commercial content? Something
akin to public cable access must be developed to mediate and
create an open system for submission and display of this type of
information. I would argue that without the ability to have such an
neutral community media institution (non-government, non-commercial)
use a small percentage of the digital capacity of the commercial
broadcasters this will not be financially feasible. Public
broadcasting could play a strong role here with their digital
capacity and leadership, but all broadcasters should be involved
(i.e. make this a community thing that leverages commercial
broadcastings skills, talents, and involvement.) Public access cable
should also play a strong role and in a sense be liberated from the
wires that deny access to those without cable.

Here is my suggestion on how you could secure the digital capacity,
help pay for some of the community content creation and mediation,
encourage small business and new entrants, and promote provision of
high definition programming:

1. For every minute that a digital television broadcaster does not
provide high definition broadcasting one-sixth of the digital
capacity must be placed in the Community Digital Pool. According to
most sources, six standard definition signals can be provided in place
of one HDTV signal. So in a sense the commercial broadcaster would
keep 5 channels and place one in the "pool" for reallocation.
Congress want HDTV and FCC seems to understand that choice and
competition is a good policy goal.

2. The Community Digital Pool would be administered by a neutral
body not tied to the broadcasters or the community media institution.
One-half of the digital capacity would be sold at the market rate to
encourage direct provision of push information services by new
entrants (newspapers, etc.).

3. The revenue generated would be allocated to the community media
institution(s) in the related area for non-commercial content
development and mediation (i.e. development of community databases
with distributed information providers across a community - the way
governments, education institutions, non-profits, clubs, etc. will be
able to submit information in standardized formats. The Internet
become a giant production facility.) The other half of the digital
capacity would then be allocated to the community media
institution(s) for the actual broadcast of the community information
at no cost. Requiring the community institutions to pay the market
rate for delivery will make provision of this service impossible
except for large public institutions.

In my opinion, it should also be pointed out that the "Internet" will
take over part of broadcasting in terms of standards (at least in the
below broadcast quality video areas). Open standards for the
"digital thingy" will prevail and no one company will be able to
control the operating systems for televisions - the stakes are too
high for anyone to win. Also, these community information resources
would be available via the wired Internet as well, making these push
streams available anywhere in the world. If someday two thirds of
the population has a two way connection and the one third only may
receive, at least the one third will have access to the best of
community content and be encourage to come into the two way system
for interaction and all those things that the Internet has to offer.
In fact this may be the defining moment in terms of defining the
information and communication have and have nots. Will two thirds of
the population have full interactive access to the more open world of
the Internet (that include global, national, and local content and
interaction) and will the other one third be left with a nationalized
media mash devoid of local content and any encouragement that
involvement in their communities is just a button push away?

Good luck with your work.

Steven Clift
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Community Digital Broadcasting - CDB - August 23, 1997

By Steven Clift -

It is time to look ten years into the future when most of the homes in
our communities will receive over the air digital broadcasts.

If your "community" could broadcast digital "1's" and "0's" what kind
of community programming would you like to have available? The signal
is digital so the programming can be all sorts of one-way video,
audio, and text. With reverse wired connections some interactivity
would be possible, particularily on text oriented community bulletin
boards. (Database driven WWW sites with forms could become highly
distributed community information entry points.)

We are at point where concepts related to cable-based Public Access,
Educational, and Government (PEG) programming, community public radio,
community, educational, library, and government public access online
networks, low power broadcast television, and digital broadcasting
need to be combined.

Recent reports indicate that ABC television plans to use their new
digital spectrum to multicast up to 6 current broadcast quality
signals instead of broadcasting one high definition channel. Since
these are digital signals imagine how many "pushed" WWW pages and
compressed audio signals could be sent instead of just one of the six
video signals?

The question we might want to ask: Will communities, in the public
interest, be granted parts of the digital broadcast spectrum for very
local "push" distribution of video, audio, and text? Some examples
might include:

1. Educational programming from pre-school through higher
2. Local government meetings and public hearings
3. School lunch menus
4. Public safety and health announcements
5. Snow emergency information (I'm from Minnesota)
6. Public text bulletin boards (missing pets, club meetings, etc.)
7. Community "radio" programming in multiple languages, local music
8. Public access video programming

The key concept here is that with "convergence" there is an
opportunity to define a set of information to which we feel all
people should have basic access. We need to define the
information needs that are essential to building strong communities
and local democracy. At more regional levels and statewide there will
also be opportunities to explore, in conjunction with public
broadcasting, how to use some of the digital spectrum.

Here is the crunch, I don't have any clue if the FCC or anyone in
Congress has proposed that part of the digital spectrum be reserved
for low power digital broadcasting by some community controlled CDB
entity (I understand that traditional low power broadcasting's future
is not certain.) I also don't know what kind of public interest
requirements will be placed on commercial broadcasters. Will they
have to give some capacity to CDB like groups, the government,
educational institutions, etc. for public interest use? And in the
end, all the capacity in the world is pretty useless if you don't have
the resources to enable the community to produce programming.

I think it will be very important to watch and get involved with how
public broadcasting approaches digital broadcasting. I have also
always wondered why current PEG programming continues to be locked on
wires, when low power broadcasting should have been explored (before
the current freeze on new LPTV stations)? (I know that cable
franchise fees pay for much of the programming, but if these are in
the community interest, why not get them over the air for more
universal access?)

In the end I can imagine tens of thousands of low power digital
broadcasting facilities "pushing" video, audio, and text programming
over smaller geographic areas (say 10-20 square miles). Perhaps the
FCC should reserve a section of the digital spectrum for these kinds
of weaker signals and allow for state commissions to allocate the
specific spectrum and set the signal strength (the commissions with
the FCC's help would jointly deal with border areas). Since
interference will be the FCC's main concern, keeping the multitude of
low power stations away from the big commercial and public
broadcasting folks by design would be key. In exchange for allowing
lots of low power digital broadcasts possible, allowing a higher
threshold for interference might make sense.

Deeper into the digital world

When one looks at the current motivation behind Netscape's Netcaster,
or Microsoft's investments in Progressive Network's Real Audio/Video,
or the many proprietary means by which digital stuff will be
"streamed," I think the potential broadcast use of these tools is a
primary motivation for the current market battles. Also while
proposed CDB feeds would be available over the air, they could also be
available online through the ever expanding capacity of the wired
infrastructure. Another question we might ask is that without open
standards for streamed digital programming who will have to pay who
just be "on the air"? I don't have to pay anyone to use HTML on a WWW
page, if a CDB group wants to stream an audio program, will they be
able to or will the tools required be set at a price that such groups
will be out of the market?

I admire Netscape and Microsoft for their move toward "channels"
because it raises the issue of who defines a channel and who can
produce programming for these channels. Sort of like who decided that
channels 2-13 were just that, but in the online world the number of
potential channels is infinite. In this new world the directory and
the computer desk top (TV-Top, Radio-Top ... X-Top) holds the power to
move eye balls and ears (i.e. advertising dollars, membership fees,
donations, social and political power in general). For large media
outfits (from large national broadcasters to regional newspapers) the
marginal cost to repackage their content into a multimedia channel is
much less than any new commercial entrant or CDB like effort.

However, the very nature of the digital medium often enables user
choice to better manifest itself and I would argue that with a good
directory and meta-content naming scheme and non-monopolistic push
platform systems, the "people" will consume more local programming
than before (versus the current national/local television mix) be it
commercial or non-commercial. It will still be a fairly small amount
local content compared to national/global content, but without a
directory scheme that makes local content easily discovered and
accessed (wired X-top or broadcast X-Top) we won't have the increases
required to motivate the continual generation and growth of both
commercial and non-commercial community content.

Convergence is coming fast

I recently read about an Internet device that allows you to download
audio off the WWW and set it in your car for playback while on the way
home. This is sort of like a "Mr. Microphone" for the Internet that
sends an FM signal to your radio at short distances. It doesn't seem
to far off that real time digital broadcast capacity (will be
converted directly via little boxes to current home and car stereos -
time to wake up radio industry). The digital TV (or perhaps the same
set-top box with separate audio and video outs) will have an operating
system that will allow someone to visit say 200 continually sent WWW
pages (like teletext in Europe) from a specific broadcaster.

So in the end I wonder if we will have a place for at least 200
community pages and will at least one of these multimedia digital
streams be one our communities can take a dip in?

Whew, I think I am converged out. :-)

Feel free to take these ideas as your own, repackage them, forward
them, refute them, etc.. I am busy getting the Democracies Online
project off the ground. Down the road if community efforts in this
area actually emerge I'll cover them in the new Democracy Notes
newsletter. I also assume that others have articulated these ideas
before, so drop me a note if you are working on these issues today.

Steven Clift

Steven L. Clift, Director, Democracies Online
3454 Fremont Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408 USA
Tel: 612-824-3747 E: - Democracies Online - Home Page