FCC Seeks Comment on Status of Next Gen TV/ATSC 3.0 Transition

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On June 22, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking public comment on the status of the Next Generation Television (Next Gen TV) transition and the scheduled sunset of two rules adopted for the transition. Next Gen TV is the newest broadcast TV service transmission standard developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) to enable broadcasters to deliver Internet protocol-based video and nonvideo services to consumers (ATSC 3.0). 

Generally, the purpose of the NPRM is for the FCC to assess the status of Next Gen TV broadcasters’ voluntary, market-driven deployment of ATSC 3.0 services, whether certain rules concerning the transition should be maintained or eliminated, and whether new rules need to be adopted to facilitate the transition to the new TV service standard. Accordingly, in the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on the ATSC 3.0 transition in the following areas:

  1. Review of the ATSC 3.0 Marketplace. The FCC seeks comment on the state of the ATSC 3.0 marketplace. Specifically, the FCC requests comment on the following issues:
    • Information about and data on the current deployment of ATSC 3.0 services.
    • The current availability and pricing of ATSC 3.0 consumer TV equipment.
    • The current number of over-the-air television viewers watching ATSC 3.0 broadcasts.
    • Whether any multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) are currently carrying or planning to carry ATSC 3.0 signals.
    • Whether holders of essential patents for the ATSC 3.0 standards are licensing such patents on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.
  2. The Substantially Similar Rule. The FCC seeks comment on whether the “substantially similar rule” should be retained or be permitted to sunset on July 17, 2023 (which the FCC would affirmatively need to extend should it deem it to be necessary). The substantially similar rule requires that the programming simulcasted on a Next Gen TV station’s ATSC 1.0 channel be “substantially similar” to that of the primary programming aired by the station on its ATSC 3.0 channel. The rule is intended to protect ATSC 1.0 viewers from losing access to a Next Gen TV station’s programming following its transition to ATSC 3.0. While the requirement to simulcast in both ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 channels is not subject to the July 17, 2023 expiration date, the requirement to simulcast substantially similar primary programming on a station’s ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 channels is subject to the sunset date. The FCC needs to affirmatively extend the July 17, 2023 sunset date for the substantially similar rule should it determine that to be necessary. Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on the following issues:
    • The impact of sunsetting the substantially similar rule on ATSC 1.0 viewers.
    • Whether Next Gen TV broadcasters’ financial incentives are sufficient to ensure that ATSC 1.0 viewers retain access to primary video programming offered in ATSC 1.0 format if the substantially similar rule sunsets in 2023.
    • Whether any marketplace developments have reduced or eliminated the need for the substantially similar rule.
    • Whether there are any other disadvantages or advantages to allowing the substantially similar rule to sunset in 2023.
  3. Compliance with the ATSC A/322 Standard Requirement. The FCC seeks comment on whether it should retain the requirement that Next Gen TV broadcasters’ primary video programming stream comply with the ATSC A/322 standard and, if so, for how long. The ATSC A/322 standard is a technical standard regarding the formatting of a TV’s broadcast signal. The FCC requires Next Gen TV stations to comply with the ATSC A/322 standard to ensure that television device manufacturers and MVPDs can receive ATSC 3.0 signals on their devices and systems. Accordingly, the FCC seeks comment on the following issues:
    • The impact on consumers, device manufacturers and MVPDs if the requirement were to sunset.
    • Whether there are other means of ensuring that ATSC 3.0 TV sets and other equipment receive all ATSC 3.0 primary broadcast signals should the requirement expire.
    • Whether the FCC should incorporate the 2021 updates to the ATSC A/322 standard since it mandated its use in 2017. 
  4. Digital Equity and Inclusion. Finally, the FCC seeks comment on how the issues and proposals raised in the NPRM may promote or inhibit advances in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. Reply Comments will then be due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. We will update you when these comment deadlines have been announced.

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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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