FCC Readies ATSC 3.0 License Applications
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to start accepting license applications for next-generation ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, Chairman Ajit Pai reportedly revealed last week.
According to a report Monday by video distribution industry trade publication Multichannel News, Pai made the disclosure Friday while addressing the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers.
According to the report, Pai said some IT work remained on the new licensing form, but he expected necessary changes to the license management database to be ready by the second quarter of the year.
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At the heart of the next-generation ATSC 3.0 DTV broadcast system will be the opportunity for terrestrial broadcasters to send hybrid content services to fixed and mobile receivers seamlessly—combining both over-the-air transmission and broadband delivery.
Options for “multiview” and “multiscreen” will be important in addition to the option of choosing among standard definition, HD and 4K Ultra HD resolution levels. ATSC 3.0 is being designed to allow the seamless use of broadcasting combined with broadband to deliver services and components of services. One example of this might be delivering video and one audio language in broadcasts, with alternate language audio streams delivered via broadband—allowing the viewer to select among a number of options.
The service model for ATSC 3.0 allows for more complex services to help broadcasters evolve their business models. This includes provisions for: enhanced linear TV plus on-demand support; subscription and pay-per-view (PPV) support; conditional access and digital rights management (DRM) capabilities; mobile and fixed device reception, plus companion device support and hybrid delivery (broadcast and broadband), combined with pushed content.
Currently, stations using the new broadcast platform are already on the air with ATSC 3.0 signals in five markets, including Chicago, Dallas, Lansing, Mich. and Santa Barbara, Calf., but these are being used for testing purposes at this time.
As for the actual start of ATSC 3.0 broadcasting, broadcasters and electronics manufacturers face a chicken-and-egg conundrum. There are currently no commercially available television sets with built-in ATSC 3.0 television tuners in the United States, and manufacturers at CES 2019 last month didn’t show any models with the capability planned for introduction this year. In most cases, TV makers are waiting for a critical mass of available supporting transmissions before adding the feature to new models. It is hoped this will be achieved in time for the 2020 model year.
Further, no one has yet started aggressively marketing or promoting dongle tuners for ATSC 3.0 that could be added to a television’s HDMI or USB inputs to let viewers tune in the channels.
In other news, Pai also reportedly said that the FCC’s Media Bureau is addressing several open issues to help broadcasters transition to the new ATSC 3.0 platform while simultaneously maintaining their existing signals. One area being addressed is helping stations that don’t have viable partners in their local market to team up for spectrum sharing and other initiatives proposed to enable the bandwidth for simulcasts of ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 signals.
The National Association of Broadcasters had been looking at a flexible standard for waivers to the FCC’s requirement that TV stations’ simulcast both their current ATSC 1.0 transmission and next-gen ATSC 3.0 signal.
But the FCC also faces various petitions for reconsideration filed by cable operators.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), The Television & Internet Association, the American Cable Association and the American TV Alliance had communicated potential problems with the FCC’s initial order on the framework for the ATSC 3.0 rollout, including what some saw as vague simulcast requirements.
They had also asked the FCC to reconsider its decision not to require separate negotiations for first-time multi-channel video programming distributor carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals; to permit low power and translator stations to flash-cut to ATSC 3.0 and allowing broadcasters to degrade their signals without warning viewers and multichannel service providers in advance.
By Greg Tarr
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