NextGenTV (aka ATSC 3.0) over-the-air broadcast TV stations have been licensed in at least 68 U.S. markets covering more than half of all households, according to a call for public comment issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week.

Furthermore, the FCC said at least one full power TV station has been licensed to provide ATSC 3.0 services in 54 designated market areas (DMAs).

The FCC update indicated that the licensees of these new hybrid stations, which combine over-the-air broadcast reception with Internet connectivity to provide supplemental data capacity and interactive capabilities, are gradually ramping up coverage, although in some markets signal availability might may be limited currently to a single low power television station.

According to data from S&P Global, ATSC 3.0 signals are actually avaible to some 66.3 million unique U.S. households, equivalent to about 51% of U.S. homes.

The Commission said most markets with ATSC 3.0 deployments have a single 3.0 “lighthouse” facility to provide ATSC 3.0 service.

A “lighthouse” facility is a host station that could initially share its capacity with other broadcasters in the market for ATSC 3.0 signal carriage. Potentially, one or more of the other stations in the market could then share their station’s ATSC 1.0 bandwidth (known as a “nighlight”) with the lighthouse station operator to ensure both broadcasters continue to maintain their legacy stations as they begin services on the new digital OTA platform.

The so-called “lighthouse” and “nightlight” stations would then begin to help ramp up 3.0 service in a market without disruption to legacy ATSC 1.0 service as more 3.0 transmissions start up.

Eventually, just one ATSC 1.0 “nightlight” station could take care of the legacy transmission obligation.

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Although ATSC 3.0 will enable the broadcast of subscription based OTA/OTT programming, FCC rules mandate that NextGenTV broadcasters transmit at least one free ATSC 3.0 video stream at all times throughout the ATSC coverage area, and at a quality level at least comparable to the station’s ATSC 1.0 signal.

Broadcasters will be required to simultaneously transmit legacy ATSC 1.0 broadcasts along with the new ATSC 3.0 stations for the near future.

The FCC said that at least one station is now broadcasting in 38 of the ATSC 3.0 licensed markets, and in 13 markets, there is more than one “lighthouse” station providing the ATSC 3.0 broadcasts for itself and other stations.

The FCC has issued a “Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” asking for public comment on the NextGenTV transition and on its scheduled sunset of two rules adopted in the FCC’s First NextGenTV Report and Order.

These rules are slated cease in 2023, and include a rule requiring that a NextGenTV station’s ATSC 1.0 simulcast primary video programming stream be “substantially similar” to its 3.0 primary programming stream. The other rule scheduled to sunset is that a NextGenTV station comply with the ATSC A/322 standard, which was intended to ensure that local multi-channel pay-TV service providers in an area can reliably carry the stream.

The FCC is also gathering public testimony to gauge how well the hybrid Over The Air technology is working and to ensure IP/Patent holders are working on reasonable terms with TV station owners as the transition continues.

The two rules that are scheduled to sunset in 2023 include the rule requiring that a Next Gen TV station’s ATSC 1.0 simulcast primary video programming stream be “substantially similar” to its 3.0 primary programming stream and the rule that a Next Gen TV station comply with the ATSC A/322 standard, which was intended to ensure that local MVPDs could reliably carry the stream.

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By Greg Tarr

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