This past Friday, the FCC released a Third Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Multicast Licensing Order), setting forth rules regarding Next Gen multicast hosting arrangements and seeking further comment on ATSC 3.0-related patent issues.
This evening the FCC released the Agenda for its November 16 Public Meeting, and as anticipated, the two Media items on it are the Reconsideration of the FCC’s Broadcast Ownership Rules and the FCC’s proposed approval of ATSC 3.0. More importantly, the FCC released the proposed draft orders for each item and an associated “Fact Sheet” summarizing the proposals to be voted on at the November meeting.
The content of the broadcast ownership draft Order matches what Chairman Pai had announced in his testimony before a House subcommittee yesterday and in an FCC blog post this afternoon. Specifically, the Order proposes to eliminate the Newspaper/Broadcast and TV/Radio Cross-Ownership Rules, permit certain TV duopolies by eliminating the Eight Voices Test and assessing proposed Big-4 station combinations on a case-by-case basis, eliminate attribution of Joint Sales Agreements, and create an incubator program to promote new entry and ownership diversity in the broadcast industry.
That would normally have been enough big news for a day, but in an era that makes what once was referred to as “Internet time” seem excruciatingly slow, most of this information was already old news by tonight. As far as breaking news goes, the more interesting item was the FCC’s reveal of its plans for ATSC 3.0 (“Next Gen TV”), which it had been holding close to the vest until tonight.
As summarized by the FCC’s Fact Sheet attached to the draft Order, the FCC proposes to:
- Allow television broadcasters to use Next Gen TV on a voluntary, market-driven basis.
- Require broadcasters that use Next Gen TV to partner with another local station to simulcast their programming in the current digital television (DTV) transmission standard (ATSC 1.0), so that viewers will continue to receive their existing broadcast service.
- For five years, require the programming aired on the ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel to be “substantially similar” to the programming aired on the ATSC 3.0 channel. This means that the programming must be the same, except for programming features that are based on the enhanced capabilities of ATSC 3.0, advertisements, and promotions for upcoming programs.
- Exempt low power TV and TV translator stations from the simulcasting requirement, and permit case-by-case waivers if a station has no viable simulcast partner.
- Retain mandatory carriage rights on cable and satellite systems for simulcast DTV signals, and afford Next Gen TV signals no mandatory carriage rights while the Commission requires local simulcasting.
- Subject Next Gen TV signals to the public interest obligations that currently apply to television broadcasters.
- Require broadcasters to provide advance on-air notifications to educate consumers about Next Gen TV service deployment and simulcasting.
- Incorporate specific parts of the Next Gen TV technical standard (A/321 and A/322) into [the FCC’s] rules and explain the methodology used to calculate interference. The A/322 requirement would apply only to a broadcaster’s primary video stream and would sunset five years from the effective date of the rules unless extended by the Commission.
- Conclude that it is unnecessary to adopt a Next Gen TV tuner mandate for new television receivers.
The FCC also proposes to adopt a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to:
- Seek comment on issues related to exceptions and waivers of the requirement that Next Gen TV broadcasters partner with a local station to simulcast DTV signals.
- Seek comment on whether to let full power broadcasters use vacant channels in the television broadcast band to encourage use of Next Gen TV.
- Tentatively conclude that local simulcasting should not change the “significantly viewed ” status of a Next Gen TV station for purposes of cable and satellite carriage.
For broadcasters now diving into the spectrum repack and looking for the silver lining in having to rebuild on a new channel, tonight’s announcement will be welcome news. Broadcasters have been urging the FCC to move forward on approving ATSC 3.0 so that it can be incorporated into station rebuilds and business planning, where any form of uncertainty complicates matters. By revealing tonight its working draft of the ATSC 3.0 Order, the FCC has begun to remove that uncertainty. The remainder will hopefully dissipate on November 16.
As someone who has been deeply involved in planning for the rollout of ATSC 3.0, I get a lot of questions about the next generation broadcasting standard. By far the two most common questions are “When will the transition start?” and “When will it end?” My answers—which often lead to quizzical looks—are “Very soon. And never.”
The visible transition to 3.0 in the United States will begin almost immediately after the FCC approves use of the new technology. Transmitters being built today are 3.0 ready, and many hundreds (perhaps more than a thousand) of these transmitters will be installed as a necessary part of the post-incentive auction repacking process. Broadcasters are already discussing how to provide ATSC 1.0 simulcasts in many markets so that some stations can begin transmitting in 3.0. Korean television stations will launch ATSC 3.0 broadcasts beginning in May of this year, accelerating the availability of 3.0-compatible receivers. So, the transition will begin soon. I would argue it is already underway.
When I say the transition will never end, I don’t mean the broadcast industry is entering its groundhog day. Quite the opposite. I mean that ATSC 3.0 provides enormous headroom for broadcasting to continue to grow and evolve long after all stations have made the initial conversion.
And that’s the beauty of ATSC 3.0. It will bring a foundational change to the capabilities of our national television broadcast infrastructure. Most important, it allows broadcasters to continually expand, enhance and improve the services they offer, even after all stations have converted to 3.0. That’s why I say the “transition” will never end.
Though we can’t put a date on the end, we do know what the first steps are.
Step 1 – Upgrade to 3.0. Within a matter of years, most or perhaps all stations will have completed the transition to ATSC 3.0, in the sense that they will be broadcasting 3.0 signals. But the services offered, and the networks and systems behind those services, can evolve to meet the changing demands of the incredibly robust and dynamic marketplace in which broadcasters must compete. Continue reading →
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.