Skip to main content

FCC Proposes Next-Gen TV Deployment

WASHINGTON—A plan for voluntary adoption of the “next-generation” television broadcasting transmission standard known as ATSC 3.0 has been proposed at the Federal Communications Commission, marking a seminal event in the development of the standard.

“We propose to authorize television broadcasters to use the ‘Next-Generation’ broadcast television transmission standard associated with recent work of the Advanced Television Systems Committee on a voluntary, market-driven basis, while they continue to deliver current-generation digital television broadcast service, using the ATSC 1.0 standard to their viewers,” the 49-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking stated.

Comments are due on the NPRM 60 days after publication in the Federal Register; replies, 90 days after publication.

The National Association of Broadcasters welcomed the news. “NAB strongly supports the FCC moving ahead on two proceedings of significant importance to broadcasters—a rulemaking on Next-Gen television and an AM revitalization order,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications said. “Both items will foster technological innovation, increase opportunities for minority and female owners, and create new and unique services for consumers. Chairman Pai deserves credit for departing from the past practice of both Republican and Democratic-controlled commissions, and publicly releasing the proposals early to inject greater transparency in the FCC rulemaking process. We believe this action will provide greater clarity for stakeholders and greater trust from the public in dealing with the FCC going forward.”

Mark Richer

ATSC President Mark Richer said “the development of ATSC 3.0 is a landmark in broadcasting, with hundreds of the best technical minds in the industry working on this next generation technology. The ATSC sees the commission’s Notice as another important step forward for Next-Gen TV. Core elements of the ATSC 3.0 standard already are approved and proven, which we hope will give the FCC and broadcasters confidence for voluntary implementation of ATSC 3.0. We’ll look forward to seeing how various stakeholders respond to the commission’s Notice, and we’re hopeful that the NPRM process will be completed in a timely manner.”

In a blog about the deployment on, newly installed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote, “Broadcasting remains an indispensable part of America’s communications landscape.”

The NPRM, which sets forth a voluntary adoption framework for the standard, is scheduled for a Feb. 23 vote—inside the 90-day NRPM comment-reply cycle—with “the commission’s ultimate resolution… subject to change,” according to a footnote on the document.

“I hope that we can issue a final approval of the standard later this year,” Pai said.

A February vote would roughly coincide with the end of the TV spectrum incentive auction, which starts the 39-month deadline clock for stations moving to new channel assignments. The NPRM seeks feedback on how to incorporate ATSC 3.0 into this post-auction channel repack.

The NPRM also seeks comment on:
• Which component(s) of the ATSC 3.0 standard must be codified by the FCC to enable voluntary adoption.
• Issues related to local ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 simulcasting.
• Cable and satellite carriage—no must-carry for 3.0, and voluntary carriage of 3.0 under retransmission consent.
• OET-69 to calculate interference potential and signal-protection threshold (and what other services may be affected).
• Public interest obligations as “currently applicable to television broadcasters.”
• A tuner mandate being “unnecessary at this time.”
• Authorization of 3.0 single frequency networks.
• Require ATSC 3.0 public service announcements, including how it will “not negatively impact the post-incentive auction transition process.”

ATSC 3.0 comprises suite of about 20 standards divided in the three layers—physical, management and protocols, and applications and presentation. This modular approach enables updates vs. overhauls and allows for flexibility of use.

In their April 2016 petition requesting approval for voluntary deployment of ATSC 3.0, broadcasters and consumer electronics makers limited their request to the physical layer standard ATSC A/321, the “System Discovery and Signaling” architecture, or “bootstrap,” said to provide a “universal entry point into a broadcast waveform,” for multiple service types such fixed and mobile television, for example.

South Korean TV manufacturer LG introduced the first ATSC 3.0 4KTVs this year at CES, also asked that A/322, the “Physical Layer Protocol,” also be included because it defines the non-bootstrap portion of the physical layer.

Deployment of ATSC 3.0 would be on a “voluntary, market-driven basis,” and without a tuner mandate, so broadcasters will have to continue transmitting a legacy signal since there currently are no TVs in the U.S. market that decode ATSC 3.0. Under the proposed rules, broadcasters who launch 3.0 must continue simulcasting in the current DTV standard format, ATSC 1.0.

The NPRM presents a couple of simulcasting “host” scenarios, where a station deploying ATSC 3.0 could arrange for a same-market station to carry either its 1.0 simulcast or the 3.0 feed. E.g., if just one station in a designated market area lights up 3.0, it could have the cooperating station host its 1.0 signal, or if two fire up 3.0, one could carry the next-gen transmissions and the other, the legacy 1.0 signals.

The host scenarios reflect the previously discussed “lighthouse/nightlight” approach by which one “lighthouse” station initially carries all the 3.0 signals in a market, and as more 3.0 receivers are deployed, ATSC 1.0 transmissions are finally carried by just one “nightlight” station. The commission proposes that next-gen broadcasters transmit “at least one free ATSC 3.0 video stream… at all times throughout the ATSC coverage area,” and that it be “at least as robust as a comparable DTV signal.”

Further, the commission asked whether or not simulcasts should be separately licensed as second or temporary channels, or treated as multicast streams. A licensing scheme would reflect the same procedures adopted for channel-sharing arrangements, and it would allow noncommercial educational stations to host commercial station signals. A multicast approach would “minimize administrative burdens,” but would “appear to preclude” NCE stations from hosting commercial stations on account of current FCC rules.

The NPRM also asks about the interest level of smaller operations, including lowpower TV licensees and rural broadcasters, for deploying 3.0, and whether LPTVs should be able to serve as host stations and be given the option of flash-cutting to 3.0.

Further, the NPRM asks if a simulcasting sunset date should be set for cessation of ATSC 1.0 transmissions.

The NPRM notes that multichannel video provider carriage requirements would depend somewhat whether 3.0 streams are licensed or defined as multicast streams. Under a licensed approach, a broadcaster could choose between must-carry or retrans consent for its 1.0 or its 3.0 transmission. Under a multicasting approach, the lines are less clear. Only the host station’s primary 1.0 signal, for example, would be covered by mustcarry, while the hosted signal would not be. The NPRM asks if the hosted signal should also be considered primary.

With regard to 3.0, the commission said it’s too early to mandate carriage since it has not yet been settled how cable and satellite TV providers technically would do so. It also asks if and how retransmission consent should be applied to 3.0, and whether it should be prohibited until the “ATSC Specialist Group on Conversion and Redistribution of ATSC 3.0 Service produces its initial report” later this year.

Petitioners asked that OET-69, the interference parameters used for current ATSC 1.0 digital TV transmissions, be used for 3.0. The commission agreed. OET-69 also would be the reference for service protection of 3.0 signals, and of co-channel and adjacentchannel signals. The 3.0 service area would reflect the 1.0 service area: “We propose to define a ‘DTV-equivalent’ service area for a station transmitting in ATSC 3.0 using the methodology and planning factors defined for ATSC 1.0 in OET Bulletin No. 69,” the NPRM states. “This means that for a UHF next-gen TV station, the DTV-equivalent service area would be defined at 41 dBμV/m plus a dipole adjustment factor.”

The document proposes authorization of single frequency networks for ATSC 3.0 under the commission’s existing rules for distributed transmission systems, with one amendment requiring that “all transmitters under a single license follow the same standard.”

The NPRM proposes to apply all current public-interest rules to 3.0 transmission, including those governing foreign ownership, political broadcasting, children’s programming, equal employment opportunities, public inspection files, main studio requirements, indecency, sponsorship identification, contest rules, the CALM Act, the Emergency Alert System, closed captioning and video description.