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DTV: The Argentine case

Many countries have adopted a digital television standard and are not making regular broadcasts, this is the case of Argentina that has already chosen and approved the ATSC format of the United States.

Digital television is a reality in the world, many broadcasts are taking place at the moment in the United States of America, Canada, in some countries in Europe and in Japan. These broadcasts are made using basically two different techniques developed in the USA (ATSC) and in the European Community (DVB). Many countries have adopted a digital television standard and are not making regular broadcasts, this is the case of Argentina, which has defined its transmission system according to the resolution of the Secretariat of Communications SC 2357/98 and corresponds to the ATSC whose development comes from the United States of America.

The discussion about which standard is the best is focused on the form of modulation in transmissions, ATSC uses an 8-VSB modulation and the European system uses COFDM. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to implementation and their performance is affected by the topographic characteristics of cities, pre-existing channel assignments, interference characteristics of other services, the modality in the distribution of content by networks and other engineering considerations and, perhaps most importantly, those of a political and economic nature. Other technical issues such as the compression system, data packaging, etc. do not generate discussion in the process of selecting a digital television transmission standard.

But although in Argentina there is a regulation in this regard, things are not absolutely defined and since mid-1999 there has been an unknown about whether ATSC will definitely be the digital television standard. While the process proposed by Argentina's Communications Secretariat to define the standard may respond to a logical procedure, it was overshadowed at the last minute by some decisions that are not shared by most of the companies, institutions and agencies involved.

If we analyze chronologically the development of the regulations, the main reasons that we are pointing out will emerge clearly:

- Publicidad -

Year1997

  • July 8
  • . The Study Group of Digital Television Systems is created by Resolution SC 2.128/97, whose main function was to assess the feasibility, prepare the tentative plan for the distribution of channels, carry out an analysis of the economic implications and propose the draft technical standards for digital television. A period of six months is established here for issuing. In the recitals, it recognizes the development of the European DVB and ATSC standard and the implications that the regulation would mean for companies and viewers throughout the country and considers the need to coordinate actions with the Permanent Thematic Group of Mercosur.

    Year 1998

  • February 12
  • . The technical regulation of high-definition television is established by Resolution SC 433/98. In its recitals, it stresses that periods of experimentation should allow results to be reached that ensure decisions that have the least degree of uncertainty. The recommendations of Region II of the International Telecommunication Union are adopted for frequency distribution and, specifically, the adoption of 6 Mhz of bandwidth for all digital television channels. It promotes taking into account the recommendations of the countries of the region regarding digital television. It encourages you to choose a system that allows transmission on HDTV. It grants free-to-air television licensees a three-year trial period, during which consultations can be made with the US and Europe for support in the system selection process. Define the twelve-month term to adopt the most convenient standard. Studies for the rearrangement of the spectrum are initiated with the aim of assigning the definitive frequencies. Efforts are being made to achieve compatibility between free-to-air, cable and satellite television systems. Some basic technical considerations for transmissions are defined.
  • July 2, 1998
  • . The Advisory Committee for the Implementation of Digital TV Systems is created by Resolution SC 1.637/98. A Public Hearing is called, in order to resolve technical and regulatory issues.
  • September 4
  • . A Public Hearing is convened by Resolution SC 1.945/98. The requirement to complete a Prior Consultation Document is established as a condition for speaking at the hearing.
  • September 22
  • . The public hearing is held.
  • October 22, 1998
  • . The ATSC technical standard is established according to Resolution SC 2.357/98. The main channels of Buenos Aires are authorized to carry out experimental tests of digital transmission. The selection of the same standard is promoted within the Mercosur countries. It is proposed to adapt the ATSC standard for applications in Cable, MMDS, UHF coded, satellite and other systems.

    Year 1999

  • March 3
  • . Experimental transmissions are authorized by Resolution SC 4.098/99.

    From February 1998 and throughout the year countless meetings and dissertations were held with the aim of clarifying the panorama on which standard could be the most appropriate to the Argentine reality.

    Analyzing the development, from the moment in which the basic technical issues are established to begin to carry out tests tending to define the standard (February 1998) until its definition (October 1998) eight months passed, less time than the twelve that were indicated in the regulations. The complaints of Argentine broadcasters about this decision of the Ministry of Communications focused on the following issues:

    • The absolutely reduced time to be issued by a standard (initially twelve months), considering the historical implication and the impact on companies and viewers.
    • The position of the Mercosur countries in the final decision was not considered, nor was that of Chile and other countries in the region.
    • The decision was made months before a change of government that ultimately resulted from the opposition.
    • Effective technical tests were not carried out on all existing systems (ATSC, DVB and ISDB) because in eight months it was impossible to coordinate testing tasks, import equipment and draw conclusions.
    • Many of the opinions on the desirability of one or the other system provided by specialists were ignored.
    • The decision was taken in the absence of a large number of definitions that should have been sufficiently studied, such as the distribution of frequencies, the allocation of channels to broadcasters, the relationship between the system and other digital services, the detailed study of the DVB project and its application in the European market, knowledge of the reality of Argentina's regional economies and their real possibilities of making investments to change technology on the part of both broadcaster and viewer.
    • The lack of a detailed study on the possibilities of the evolution of the market mainly in terms of mobile and portable reception, multichannel transmission in SDTV and transmission in HDTV, data transmission such as Internet, the relationship with Cable services, MMDS and Satellite, etc.

    In conclusion, the decision was seen as impulsive, authoritarian and tinged with a high political content in favor of the ATSC system. Several oppositions were formally made, such is the case of the president of the Digital Television Council who presented, in November 1998, a request for the annulment of resolution SC 2357/98 at the administrative headquarters of the Secretariat of Communications. This request was not answered, a circumstance that would give the possibility of requesting the nullity to the justice. So far, no formal requests for annulment have been filed and the regulations remain in force.

    The events precipitated the distrust in the future of the regulations and this was reflected in the exhibition of CAPER '99 where the confusion was enormous and the characteristics of the different systems were discussed again, being present the main references of ATSC and DVB. To further complicate the picture, the new Secretary of Communications who took office in early 2000, told a national newspaper that the resolution of the previous government, which chose the US ATSC standard, has no validity, because it was taken on incorrect grounds, with non-existent evidence, without coordination with Brazil and based on false considerations about the European DVB standard.

    - Publicidad -

    In conclusion, in Argentina Digital Television is not defined in terms of the modulation system and tests have begun on the two systems in both channels in Buenos Aires and Mendoza and Córdoba.

    In Chile, the Undersecretariat of Telecommunications is not willing to go through the Argentine experience and in March of this year, it is expected to begin the selection process of the digital television standard, participating the three proposals used in the world. Chile's state channel has carried out tests of systems as an advance to the regulations.

    Meanwhile, tests have been carried out in Brazil since November 1998 through the Abert/SET TV Digital group. One of the main problems for selection is its topology, characterized in many cities by the existence of mountains and a large number of assigned stations.

    The technical results have defined that DVB is the best alternative for digital television in Brazil. Although the Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações does not have approved regulations.

    The remaining countries in the region have not made significant progress in selecting digital standards.

    The immediate future for the region is observed with turbulence from what happened in Argentina and the strong pressures that exist in the US to allow the use of COFDM modulation and, due to the low demand for HDTV televisions in that market and the high costs of implementing the system. This has a negative impact on Argentina and the region as a whole. This forces us to rethink the entire scheme of decisions to order it to a sequence that considers engineering, regional interests and ensures a transition from analog to digital fundamentally transparent.

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