FCC Starts Down the Path to ATSC 3.0
Fulfilling Chairman Wheeler’s promise at the NAB Show to launch a proceeding before the end of the month commencing the process of authorizing use of ATSC 3.0 by TV broadcasters, the FCC today released a Public Notice on the subject. The Public Notice seeks comments on an April 13, 2016 Petition filed by a consortium that includes America’s Public Television Stations, the AWARN Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association, and the National Association of Broadcasters.
Quoting heavily from the Petition, the Public Notice summarizes the Petition as requesting the FCC to:
“amend its rules to allow broadcasters to use the signaling portion of the physical layer of the new ATSC 3.0 (‘Next Generation TV’) broadcast standard, while they continue to deliver current-generation DTV broadcast service to their communities.” More specifically, the Petition asks the Commission to (1) “approve the Next Generation TV transmission standard as a new, optional standard for television broadcasting;” (2) “approve certain rule changes to permit local simulcasting to enable Next Generation TV to be deployed while ensuring that broadcasts in the current DTV standard remain available to viewers;” and (3) “specify that Next Generation TV transmission is ‘television broadcasting’ in parity with the current DTV standard, and otherwise to conform Sections 73, 74 and 76 of [the] rules to permit the deployment of this innovative new standard.”
Moving from the filing of the Petition to releasing the Public Notice in less than two weeks is an impressive feat for the FCC. Readers may recall that the Chairman, speaking at the 2015 NAB Show, announced to broadcasters that the Commission would be voting on an AM Revitalization order “in the coming weeks”. For reasons described in part here on CommLawCenter, a few weeks ultimately stretched out to more than six months, finally leading to the release of an AM Revitalization order in late October of last year.
It is therefore a positive sign that the Chairman was able to fulfill this year’s “NAB speech promise” much faster than last year’s (while acknowledging that releasing a two-page public notice is a lot easier than releasing a final order establishing new rules). Whether the Chairman views the enhanced capabilities of ATSC 3.0 as promoting his oft-stated mantra of “competition, competition, competition”, or as a back-up legacy for his Chairmanship should the spectrum auction disappoint, it launches the FCC down the path to a more flexible future for broadcasters and the services they provide.
Those interested in having their say on that future should be aware that the deadline for filing comments is May 26, 2016, with reply comments due June 27, 2016. As a variety of parties make their views known to the FCC in this proceeding, we’ll soon know whether the path to ATSC 3.0 leads to a steep climb, or a walk in the digital park.