FCC Proposes Multicast Rule Changes to Facilitate ATSC 3.0 Deployments

ATSC 3.0
(Image credit: ATSC)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The FCC has filed a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that would change multicasting rules in ways that it would be easier to launch NextGen TV services on a host station. 

“We propose changes to our Next Gen TV rules designed to preserve over-the-air (OTA) television viewers’ access to the widest possible range of programming while also supporting television broadcasters’ transition to the next generation of broadcast digital television (DTV) technology,” the FCC wrote. “In response to a Petition filed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB),  we propose to allow Next Gen TV stations  to include within their license certain of their non-primary video programming streams (multicast streams)  that are aired in a different service on `host' stations  during a transitional period, using the same licensing framework, and to a large extent the same regulatory regime, established for the simulcast of primary video programming streams on `host’ station facilities.”

The change would notably simplify the current process whereby stations have to get approval from the FCC on a case by case basis if they want to adopt the widely used tactic of having a “host station” in a market carry the ATSC 3.0 signals while continuing to offer ATSC 1.0 signals on their own station. 

“Given that Next Gen TV stations must, without any additional allocation of spectrum, prioritize serving ATSC 1.0 viewers while voluntarily transitioning to ATSC 3.0, we seek to take actions that will minimize viewer disruption as much as possible,” the FCC said. “Specifically, this FNPRM seeks to facilitate and encourage partnerships that will minimize potential disruptions by permitting stations in a market to work together to preserve viewers’ access to ATSC 1.0-formatted programming during the transition.  We intend to facilitate broadcasters’ voluntary transition to 3.0, which can provide consumers with the benefit of new and innovative services, while protecting consumers who continue to rely on 1.0 equipment.”

The FCC also noted that the current “case-by-case process is resource-intensive for both the Commission and broadcasters, and under this approach it is difficult for both Commission staff and potential viewers to track where streams are being hosted.”

The NAB proposed changing the rules in November of 2020 and “the Media Bureau placed the Petition on Public Notice and received comments and reply comments from 12 parties, including 10 broadcast station groups and associations (including NAB) and two MVPD associations,” the FCC wrote. “All of the broadcast station groups and associations support the Petition’s proposals. The two MVPD associations that commented generally do not oppose a rulemaking, but express particular concerns about the effect on the local television marketplaces of permitting Next Gen TV stations to license multicast streams that are not being simulcast on host stations and, in particular, of permitting those stations to license such multicast streams on multiple hosts.”

The full FCC notice of proposed rulemaking is available here

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.