As was widely expected, the members of Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted, 3 to 2, along party lines Thursday to approve a framework for the roll out of the nation’s next digital television broadcast platform, known as ATSC 3.0.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the action a vote for innovation. He was one of the system’s biggest champions, and had called for its swift approval shortly after being named chairman.

The framework imposes no transition time table and allows broadcasters to voluntarily begin broadcasting the signals on a market-by-market basis. It also makes it voluntary for TV makers to include digital tuners to receive the new signal in new television sets.

The system, he said, enables broadcasters to offer much better service in various ways, including enabling 4K Ultra HD video service (voluntary by broadcasters) with more immersive 3D audio, provide new advanced emergency alerts and enable better accessibility options for Americans with disabilities.

As long proposed, the new ATSC 3.0 system will not be backward compatible with the current over-the-air broadcast tuners in TV sets, but broadcasters will be required to simulcast substantially similar programming to their ATSC 3.0 broadcasts over the current ATSC 1.0 system for a period of five years. This will eliminate the need for a tuner box subsidy program as was implemented for the transition from analog to digital ATSC 1.0 broadcasting.

Read more about the FCC vote to approve the ATSC 3.0 framework after the jump:

The framework will allow broadcasters in a market to share spectrmu, when ready, to provide the necessary bandwidth to deliver both old and new signals.

The vote adds standards for system discovery and signaling and physical layer protocols to the rules to enable calculating potential interference in a market, but it also adds potential sun setting.

The vote imposes the same public interest obligations required of existing TV broadcasts on next-generation TV service. Broadcasters will be required to educate viewers about the next-gen TV deployment and simulcasting via on-air notifications.

The system is expected to eventually allow broadcasters some leverage in using their spectrum to provide targeted advertising, monitor viewer activity for data collection purposes and could deliver conditional access technology to provide premium pay-TV content at various day parts.

The process by which the ATSC 3.0 framework was approved disturbed both Democrats on the Commission — Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel. The dissenting commissioners said they were excited about the technology benefits provided by the new platform, but at the same time felt the Commission was rushing too quickly through the approval and not providing the proper testing and safeguards against potential abuses and disenfranchisement of lower-income consumers.

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Rosenworcel further called the move “a tax on every household with a television” because it would stick consumers with the full cost of buying a new television or equipment to receive the new signal. She also challenged the fact that the new system adoption was being carried out by a panel of unelected FCC commissioners, instead of first having a mandate and approval issued by Congress, as was the case in the ATSC 1.0 transition a decade earlier.

However, Pai pointed out that this time the framework requires that both old and new signals continue to be made available in a market so viewers will not be left without local TV service, and all consumers will have the choice, not the requirement, to buy a new television or equipment in order to enjoy the additional new benefits the ATSC 3.0 platform will provide.

Some opponents of the system had also complained that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a private corporate concern, stands to reap some of the greatest benefits from the FCC’s approval of ATSC 3.0 because Sinclair holds 12 out of the 9,500 patents/applications that will make up the ATSC 3.0. They said that Sinclair will derive royalties and potential leverage to demand higher retransmission consent fees from cable and satellite TV providers, who will then have to pass the added costs onto their subscribers.

A group of pay-TV providers had earlier asked the FCC to remove required retransmission negotiations from the ATSC 3.0 framework but were denied.

Some of the Republican commissioners pointed out that multichannel video service providers will not be required to carry ATSC 3.0 video channels, although it is widely expected that the benefits of the technology will make them want to have it to remain competitive and to offer a high-value service to subscribers.

Earlier, Pai had said opponents of the framework approval “dwell on the challenges inherent in any technological transition instead of embracing the benefits that innovation will bring. And they want to impose extensive government regulation that could strangle Next Gen TV in its infancy.”


By Greg Tarr


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