US communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , announced a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NRPM) on the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0 standard yesterday. The vote was unanimous, a rarity in this era of partisan politics.
Quite a mouthful, but what it basically means is that an important step in the deployment of several new broadcast services has been taken.
As newly appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai described in his surprisingly lyrical statement, "Imagine a world in which TV broadcasts of your favorite show or new programs were delivered in Ultra High Definition and immersive audio. Imagine a world in which programming was hyper-localized and broadcasters could deliver niche content to specific geographic areas within a station's signal areas. Imagine a world that offered Americans with disabilities far better accessibility options for experiencing broadcast television. Imagine a world in which every consumer smartphone could serve as an over-the-air programming device."
There's a while to go yet before this becomes reality. The NRPM basically puts forward new regulation and seeks public comment on the proposed rules before any rulemaking. More details on the process are available via a handy guide on the FCC website.
And there certainly are questions to be asked. FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted to move the process forward, but added a long list of concerns.
She was concerned about the cost to consumers that would require new tuners or TV sets to benefit from the new standard, and that there was no government coupon program as with the previous digital TV transition. She was also concerned about the future of multicast sub-channels and HD broadcasts in ATSC 1.0 simulcasts, and she questioned the ability of smaller stations to afford to switch to ATSC 3.0. Plus, she did not want smaller pay-TV providers to be disadvantaged if they were not able to provide carriage to ATSC 3.0 transmissions.
She also felt a consumer education program would be required to facilitate the transition.
The FCC is currently suggesting the transition to ATSC 3.0 be voluntary, unlike the initial digital broadcast TV transition. Broadcasters can choose to offer ATSC 3.0 transmissions, but they must continue transmissions in the current ATSC 1.0 standard as well. This will however, lead to questions about spectrum capacity at some point I would imagine.
Pay-TV providers are also not required to carry ATSC 3.0 signals (but must carry rules to continue to apply to the ATSC 1.0 signal), and the FCC is looking for comments regarding a tuner mandate for TV set manufacturers. In fact the FCC is trying to leave as much flexibility as possible for the new standard, believing that suggestions for mandates would be premature at this stage in the development of new technology.
Chairman Pai anticipates having a final order by the end of 2017, so it will take some months yet. But the NRPM does allow broadcasters to keep ATSC 3.0 requirements in mind during the upcoming post-auction channel "repack."
The NRPM only addresses some elements of the set of technologies associated with the ATSC 3.0 standard. Details of all the suggested technical approaches can be found here.
This is important news for the US TV industry because it allows for broadcasters -- who have generally been on the outside of revolutionary changes in consumer technology in the past two decades -- to offer new, innovative services independent of broadband connections. But how quickly they will move, and whether these services will catch-on or add value remains to be seen.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation