Breaking News: FCC Releases Details of Its Proposed ATSC 3.0 Approval

by Pillsbury - CommLawCenter
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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.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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