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FCC proposes ATSC 3.0 next-gen TV standard

Suggesting that a move to upgraded technology would foster innovation in the broadcast TV marketplace, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking comment on a proposal that would allow television broadcasters in the US to use the ATSC 3.0 ‘Next Generation’ broadcast television transmission standard on a voluntary, market-driven basis.

According to the FCC, ATSC 3.0 has the potential to greatly improve broadcast signal reception on mobile devices and television receivers without outdoor antennas. It is also intended to enable broadcasters to offer enhanced and innovative new features to consumers, including Ultra High Definition picture and immersive audio, more localised programming content, an advanced emergency alert system capable of waking up sleeping devices to warn consumers of imminent emergencies, improved accessibility options, and interactive services.

A coalition of broadcast and consumer electronics industry representatives petitioned the Commission to allow the use of the new standard. The upgraded technology is intended to merge the capabilities of over-the-air broadcasting with the broadband viewing and information delivery methods of the Internet using the same 6 MHz channels presently allocated for digital television (DTV).

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes and seeks comment on rules that will allow broadcasters the flexibility to deploy ATSC 3.0-based transmissions while minimising the impact on – and costs to – consumers and industry stakeholders. Among other things, the NPRM:

  • Voluntary Use: Proposes to authorise voluntary use of ATSC 3.0 transmissions and to incorporate the relevant portions of the new standard into the Commission’s rules. The NPRM tentatively concludes that a Next Gen TV tuner mandate for new television receivers is not necessary at this time.
  • Local Simulcasting: Proposes to require ‘local simulcasting’ for stations that choose to deploy Next Gen TV so broadcasters can continue to provide DTV service using the current ATSC 1.0 standard at the same time that they offer ATSC 3.0. This approach will minimise disruption to consumers by ensuring that they will still be able to use their existing TV sets, which have only current-generation DTV and analogue tuners.
  • MVPD Carriage: Proposes to require that MVPDs continue carrying broadcasters’ DTV signals, using ATSC 1.0, but not to require them to carry ATSC 3.0 signals during the period when broadcasters are voluntarily implementing ATSC 3.0 service. The NPRM also asks about issues related to the voluntary carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals through retransmission consent.
  • Service and Interference Protection: Asks for comment on whether Next Gen TV transmissions will raise any interference concerns for existing DTV operations or for any other services or devices that operate in the TV bands or in adjacent bands.
  • Consumer Protection and Education: Tentatively concludes that television stations offering ATSC 3.0 should be subject to the public interest obligations that currently apply to television broadcasters and asks for comment on whether broadcasters should be required to provide on-air notifications to educate consumers about Next Gen TV service deployment and ATSC 1.0 simulcasting.

Taken together, the proposal starts the rulemaking process to facilitate private sector innovation and promote American leadership in the global broadcast industry, says the FCC.

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