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What Is ‘Broadcast Internet?’

(Image credit: iStock)

At the 2019 NAB Show, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr was enthusiastic about the potential for ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGen TV)—particularly the IP element—urging broadcasters to take advantage of its potential applications.

“It’s important that the FCC authorized broadcasters to start experimenting with ATSC 3.0, giving you the freedom to innovate—a freedom that your competitors and many others in the tech sector already enjoyed,” he said. “And when I think about the ways that broadcasters can use that freedom to innovate, one use case stands out to me: ATSC 3.0 as a new and competitive ‘broadband pipe.’”

This is the one of the first times I had heard of the new standard being described that way but it made sense. A year later, Carr announced at the ATSC’s virtual May meeting that the FCC would take action on updating ownership rules that could have hindered broadcasters’ ability to deploy such services.

Last month, the FCC unanimously approved new rules that allow a broadcast TV licensee to lease spectrum to another broadcaster (including one in the same geographic market) or to a third party for ancillary and supplementary service without triggering the FCC’s broadcast attribution or ownership rules. The commission also said it would consider revising other relevant rules to help promote the service.

“This fulfills an unrealized promise of the digital TV transition—the use of excess spectrum for supplementary or ancillary services, in addition to traditional video programming,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “ATSC 3.0 can be used to deliver innovative new services related to automotive transportation, agriculture, distance learning, telehealth, public safety, utility automation, and the Internet of Things, to name a few, not to mention others we haven’t even dreamed of. Our goal should be to ensure that the market—not outdated rules—determines which new services and technologies will succeed.”

NAB said it “appreciated” the FCC efforts to “provide greater regulatory certainty.”

“Broadcasters are excited about innovative applications this standard makes possible, in addition to the standard’s ability to unlock the next generation of television service for our viewers,” the association said.

But what is “Broadcast Internet” anyways? In short, it’s datacasting, a concept that is almost as old as the DTV transition itself. Public TV has been partnering with local, state and federal government agencies to broadcast data for years. (And after all, DTV in its purest sense, really is datacasting).

The potential for expanding such services under ATSC 3.0 are enormous and R&D has been going on now for years. John McCoskey, chief operating officer for SpectraRep, which has been working with public broadcasters on datacasting is excited about the possibilities.

“The onset of NextGen TV greatly enhances the capacity and opportunities for public safety datacasting. Coupling that with advanced approaches to content selection and curation will solidify broadcast television’s role in supporting public safety in our communities,” he said a year ago.

Lynn Claudy, senior vice president of technology for NAB and chairman of the ATSC noted that while the concept may not be new, the opportunities are.

“The internet is different now than when we  first started talking about datacasting,” he said. “We didn’t have the Internet of Things, that didn’t mean anything even 10 years ago—and LTE didn’t exist and 5G certainly didn’t exist,” he said.

Integrating “Broadcast Internet” into an evolving communications landscape is crucial to its success. Already, broadcasters like Sinclair are researching ways to make NextGen TV and 5G work together. Claudy agrees, particularly because it is one to many, but one way only.

“In order to have that convergence you must have integration between broadcast and broadband because pretty much that’s where the return path is going to come from,” he said. “And broadcasting will shine most in the asymmetrical environment where most of the data is coming downstream to viewers, not upstream from viewers.”

Broadcasters are in the very early stages of deploying NextGen TV so plans for Broadcast Internet will probably take a back seat to the more important task of getting the signal on the air and the devices in consumers’ hands. But if the industry and the FCC can work together to reduce red tape and advance the technology, it could become a very lucrative and valuable public service. Stay tuned.