simulcasting is at the core of the next-gen broadcasting proposal pending at
the Federal Communications Commission. The idea is, a TV station that fires
up ATSC 3.0 continues to transmit the same programming in ATSC 1.0, the current
format, from another station’s facility.
The Feb. 24, Notice
of Proposed Rulemaking proposes requiring local simulcasting “as a condition to offering ATSC 3.0.”
The question is how to do it. Proponents of the new standard want as much
flexibility as possible, while the commission posed questions about how
licensing, interference and pay-TV carriage would work with local simulcasting,
among other issues.
Comments were due on the NPRM docket, No.
16-142, Tuesday, May 9. The document reflects
an April, 2016 petition filed by America’s Public Television
Stations, the AWARN Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association and the National
Association of Broadcasters, asking for voluntary deployment of ATSC 3.0.
filed May 9, petitioners requested only that the “bootstrap” portion of the
standard be incorporated into current rules, and lobbied for “as much flexibility as possible in tailoring
local simulcasting arrangements to best suit their viewers.” *
With regard to simulcast carriage, the NPRM would require pay-TV operators to
continue providing must-carry for ATSC 1.0 signals but not 3.0 signals,
which would be subject to retransmission
The American Cable Association,
which represents smaller cable operation, is concerned that broadcasters will “coerce” carriage through retransmission consent, either in future
agreements or “in longstanding language in existing agreements [that] could be
read to require ATSC 3.0 carriage—even where such language dates from years
before anybody had heard of ATSC 3.0.”
The petitioners counter that the retransmission discussion is “simply
irrelevant in this proceeding” since carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals will not be
The ACA nonetheless favors separate
carriage negotiations for ATSC 3.0 and 1.0 signals. (See ACA comments here.) The organization also is concerned
about the cost of carrying the ATSC
1.0 simulcasts, the format and picture
quality of those simulcasts and what happens when the signal from a
simulcasting location no longer reaches a
cable provider’s headend. A filing
from Midcontinent Communications further elaborates.
The petitioners urged the commission to allow “market forces to determine coverage and signal quality issues,” and
noted that broadcasters now transmitting in high-definition are already
exceeding the FCC’s current standard-def requirement. They also ask that the
commission not require an identical simulcast,
since 3.0 has multiple more capabilities than 1.0.
“For example, broadcasters might choose to use the next-gen station to
highlight ultra-high definition or the benefits of high-dynamic range or other
features using content that might be less appealing to viewers if transmitted
using ATSC 1.0,” they said.
Broadcasting seconded this request: “Mandating an absolute exact
duplication between the ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 transmissions is
counterproductive to the flexibility of the ATSC 3.0 standard.”
Petitioners also asked to use vacant,
in-band channels, aka “white
spaces,” subject to FCC approval, “for the duration of the transition.” The
Spectrum Alliance, a consortium of companies with designs on white spaces,
urged the commission “not to expand broadcasters’ spectrum rights by allowing
them to claim white spaces for ATSC 1.0—or ATSC 3.0—simulcasts.”
met with FCC staff members April 27 to lobby for “three 6 MHz channels… for
unlicensed use in the 600 MHz and TV bands” and that “in no way should the ATSC
3.0 proceeding be used as a vehicle to unnecessarily extend the incentive
auction transition period.”
The NPRM also asks if 3.0 signals should be licensed as second or temporary
channels, defined as multicasts, or a choice thereof.
Licensing gives the commission more authority over the 3.0 signals, but it
means more work for both broadcasters and FCC staff. Multicasting would be easier
but leave non-commercial educational stations out of the mix because they are
statutorily precluded from transmitting ads. (See Sec. 399B.)
Petitioners said that the commission could
authorize simulcasts as multicasting “without difficulty,” but suggested
license modification as an alternative. Separately, NAB’s Alison Neplokh and
Patrick McFadden met with Media Bureau staffers to advocate for license modification to accommodate
simulcasting, according to an ex parte notice of the April 12 meeting.
Either way, broadcasters intending to transmit 3.0 would have to file a facilities modification notification.
The NPRM also seeks input on 3.0-into-1.0 interference issues (to be measured with OET-69), as
well as the petitioners’ claim that simulcast deals can be done between
facilities “serving a substantially similar community of license.” The NPRM
essentially asks what that means.
Additionally, it would impose current public interest obligations on 3.0
simulcasts, but no receiver mandate “at
this time.” Petitioners are fine with both, but Ronald Brey of Rockford, Ill.,
would like to see “minimum
tuner standards” imposed.
Other issues in the NPRM include handling the
impact of 3.0 on the post-auction TV
band repack as well as viewer
education. A need for viewer education was illustrated in comments such as one from Evelyn Rhoads who interpreted the petition to force
another set-top on viewers. Petitioners
said broadcasters would handle viewer education voluntarily.
Among other commenters, Spencer Karter of
suggested expanding the signal coverage to 250 miles and to “eliminate” service
contours. He also replied to the opposition to the petition filed by John Notor of San Jose, Calilf.,
and his contention that over-the-air broadcasting is “obsolete.” Karter
countered that 3.0 will improve reception and provide an alternative to pay TV.
“Our DirecTV bill is currently $145 a month, and
it’s not cheap,” he writes.
Bill Sanford, CEO of Lakeland Public Television in Bemidji,
Minn., didn’t opposed 3.0, but said
it was “too late to the party.” He requested the rulemaking to allow voluntary
MPEG-4 encoding in addition to the MPEG-2 scheme broadcasters are locked into
Spectrum Evolution, a group led by low-power TV pioneer Greg
Herman, asked that LPTV licensees “be included from the start and not left out of the
initial conversion opportunity” to
transmit 3.0. Herman is president and CEO of WatchTV in Portland, Ore., which
was granted an experimental
license in February to transmit 3.0 over a distributed transmission
American Tower, which owns and/or operates
40,000 communications towers across the United States, simply asked for a speedy rulemaking so broadcasters could
incorporate 3.0 in the repack. The
request was made about a year ago. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated—most recently
in his address at the NAB Show—that he hopes to nail down a 3.0 rulemaking by
the end of this year.
* The bootstrap
layer represents the foundation of ATSC 3.0, enabling entry into the broadcast
waveform, receiver detection and a flag for emergency alerts.