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Pubcasters Ask FCC for More Flexibility in NextGen TV Deployments

(Image credit: CTA)

WASHINGTON—Public TV broadcasters this week asked the FCC to give them more flexibility when it comes to offering their primary HD signal and multicast (aka “diginets) channels during broadcasters’ transition to NextGen TV (aka ATSC 3.0). 

In comments filed with the commission, America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) and the PBS  were responding to the FCC’s current Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, (“Authorizing Permissive Use of the 'Next Generation' Broadcast Television Standard”). In its comments, they said they welcome the FCC’s proposed “mix and match” licensing flexibility for primary and multicast streams to allow broadcasters the ability to share streams across multiple hosts to maintain service where  possible to viewers during the transition to ATSC 3.0.

“The ‘mix and match’ licensing flexibility  is essential for public television stations to participate fully in NextGen TV deployments, while  avoiding unnecessary viewer disruptions to public television noncommercial educational  multicast streams,” they said. “Without expeditious adoption of ‘mix and match’ multicasting flexibility, public  television stations face the risk of being ‘left behind’ the rest of the broadcast industry on  NextGen TV deployments with the end result that audiences could miss out on the very real  public interest benefits that public television can bring to the NextGen marketplace.

The issue at stake involves how public TV broadcasters deploying NextGen TV—now available in approximately 45% of U.S. TV households—allocate bandwidth for their primary HD signal and SD multicast channels, on average, 2-3 channels dedicated to education and public affairs. 

According to Lonna Thompson EVP, COO and General Counsel for America's Public Television Stations, its member stations “are in 10 market transitions, with a PTV station, WKAR, in an eleventh market using an experimental license.

“Only eight of those markets are collaborations with commercial stations,” she added. “Because our stations use their spectrum so fully and offer so many program channels, the flexibility we are requesting is necessary for their successful involvement in market transitions.”

In its comments, APTS and PBS said that revising the multicast rules would allow PBS stations to fully engage in the opportunities afforded by NextGen TV.

“With several years’ worth of deployments now in place, the track record of public  television inclusion in NextGen TV deployments clearly demonstrates that unless public  television stations obtain additional flexibility with regard to 1.0 and 3.0 multicast streams,  public television will be denied full participation in NextGen TV developments and  consumers will be unable to access the public interest benefits of ATSC 3.0 that public  television brings to the marketplace in its unique noncommercial educational role,” they told the FCC. “These NextGen TV multicasting rule refinements are especially important for public television participation in  NextGen TV given public television stations’ commitment to robust multicast streams.” 

The restrictions caused by the lack of flexibility in multicast rules are not just “theoretical,” APTS and PBS told the FCC.

“In 2020, a  public television station participating in the NextGen TV launch in its major market as an ATSC 1.0 ‘host’ had to forego plans to transmit its second HD stream in ATSC 3.0 due to FCC regulatory concerns about ‘splitting’ its streams between two 3.0 station ‘hosts’ and, correspondingly, the 3.0 host ‘splitting’ its streams between multiple 1.0 ‘hosts,’” they said in their comments.

“The end result was a loss to the community of the opportunity for public television content in 3.0 broadcasts in that market. Moreover, based on market launches to date, APTS and PBS are  concerned that the inability to reliably accommodate public television station multicast  streams on a flexible licensing basis is hampering the inclusion of public television stations in  large group NextGen TV market launches.”

The APTS and PBS said that they support the FCC’s revision of the rules set forth last November in response to a request by the NAB. In updating the rules, NextGen TV stations would be allowed to license one or more simulcast multicast streams on a host station or stations, whether that guest stream is the 3.0 broadcast or the 1.0 simulcast. In addition, NextGen TV stations which are broadcasting in 3.0 on their own channels would be able to license one or more multicast streams aired only in 1.0 on a host station or stations even if they are not simulcasting that stream in 3.0. 

To permit the licensing of multicast streams on a host, the FCC further proposed that each of the originating station’s multicast streams would be licensed as a temporary channel in the same manner as its primary stream on the primary host. In other words, each of the originating station’s guest multicast streams aired on a host would be considered to be an additional, separately authorized channel under the originating station’s single, unified license.

In supporting the rules that would permit a 3.0 station to rely on two (or more)  separate 1.0 partner stations in order to minimize service loss from a 3.0 transition, APTS and PBS said such a revision would enhance public broadcasters’ mission of providing broadcast service to all U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live.

“This  flexibility is particularly important given the way public television coverage developed—over  the past 60 years—to reach as many people in rural, remote, and isolated parts of the United  States as possible," they said. "As a whole, PTV coverage was developed to maximize universal public  television service to fulfill congressional policy goals of universal service.”

They also told the FCC that since their stations are not privately owned, considerations over such issues as retransmission consent and ownership are not relevant in revising these rules for public broadcasters. 

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.