FCC approves Next Gen TV plan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved (in a 3:2 vote) voluntary use by broadcasters of the new ATSC 3.0 advanced TV transmission scheme for the USA. The FCC, in its decision, has opened the starting gate for the USA’s next broadcasting standard for FTA terrestrial stations.

In essence, the FCC ruling permits TV stations in the US to run VoD services with a broadband return path as well as supply Ultra HD 4K services.

However, the new standard is not backward-compatible, so it will require consumers to buy into the revolution with new displays (or converter boxes) sets and broadcasters will be required to simulcast in the existing ATSC 1.0 standard if they choose to adopt ATSC 3.0. Stations can team up with other broadcasters in the local market, with one station delivering the 1.0 signals and the other the new ATSC 3.0 signals.

But one of the FCC commissioners who voted against the scheme said there was a real risk of a digital divide in the US. “Next-Gen supporters tell us not to worry, viewers can continue to receive the existing 1.0 signal, and for five years after this Order appears in our Federal Register, that signal will be ‘substantially similar’,” said Mignon Clyburn. “Five years after this Order appears in our Federal Register, that requirement sunsets. Translation: that mandate goes away. They no longer have to send you that signal. Now late yesterday, the Chairman’s Office revised the Order to include an exception to this requirement. Without a requirement to make programming substantially similar, broadcasters are free to create two different tiers of television. Why is that problematic? Why am I uneasy? This could actually create an unacceptable, unjustified and unwanted digital television divide for those with limited financial means.”

On a more positive note, a statement from electronics giant LG, said: “This is a seminal moment for Next Gen TV,” declared Dr. Jong G. Kim, SVP/ at LG Electronics, which developed core technologies behind the ATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast standard. “FCC approval of the flexible, extensible new ATSC 3.0 standard will unleash an innovation revolution, marrying broadband and broadcasting to deliver a range of new services for consumers,” said Kim, who also serves as President of the Zenith R&D Lab.

LG drew parallels between today’s FCC action and the Commission’s adoption of the original digital TV broadcast standard (ATSC 1.0) on Christmas Eve 1996, which laid the foundation for ubiquitous digital HDTV transmission and robust business throughout the television industry. “Regulations adopted by the FCC usher in another exciting new era for broadcasters and manufacturers and especially for American TV viewers,” said John I. Taylor, SVP/public affairs, LG Electronics USA.

Gordon Smith, President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), said: “Two decades ago, the FCC blessed the transition from analogue to digital television, which ushered in the broadcast-led era of HDTV that dazzled consumers and was the envy of the technology world. Today, the Commission endorses Next Gen TV, which marks the beginning of a reinvention of free and local broadcast television in America.”

“Next Gen TV will provide tens of millions of viewers with ultra HDTV, live and local mobile TV on smartphones, emergency alerting that could save countless lives, and interactive advertising that will drive jobs and commerce in local communities. This is game-changing technology for broadcasting and our viewers, and we thank the visionary leadership of FCC chairman Pai and his colleagues for their support.”

NAB, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) and the Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) Alliance filed a joint petition in April 2017 with the FCC requesting local TV stations and TV receiver manufacturers be permitted to adopt the new over-the-air broadcast transmission standard on a voluntary, market-driven basis.

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