Acting on a petition filed last April by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and other industry groups, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began circulating a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) yesterday which would solicit comment on rules encompassing a new advanced television transmission standard, known as “ATSC 3.0,” which broadcasters would be allowed to implement on a voluntary basis alongside their current ATSC 1.0 digital signals.

Because ATSC 3.0 is based on Internet protocol, the NAB and other petitioners told the FCC last year that broadcasters would be able to use the new standard to “deliver the entire breadth of broadcast programming to smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.” Other potential benefits of ATSC 3.0 include (1) the ability to integrate broadcast program content with other IP-based services, (2) delivery of advanced emergency alert information to the public, and (3) datacasting “that will offer a new broadband data pipe into the home, thereby giving content providers another means for distributing large video and other digital files to consumers.” In addition to seeking comment on rules authorizing voluntary use of ATSC 3.0 while stations continue to deliver signals in ATSC 1.0 format, the draft NPRM would also solicit input on interference protections and on the extent to which implementation of the new standard will impact the retransmission consent regime. Like television broadcasters, multichannel video program distributors would also be required to maintain carriage of ATSC 1.0 signals if they decide to carry ATSC 3.0 signals on a voluntary basis. While consumer electronics firms would not be required to adhere to an ATSC 3.0 tuner mandate “at this time,” the draft NPRM would seek comment on tentative proposals to enact such a mandate.

The draft NPRM is scheduled for a vote at the FCC’s next monthly open meeting on February 23. In a departure from former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s custom of circulating draft rulemaking items exclusively among the FCC’s commissioners, Pai directed FCC staffers to post a public inspection copy of the draft ATSC 3.0 NPRM on the FCC’s website in advance of the February 23 meeting. One additional item up for consideration at the February open meeting—a draft Report and Order giving AM radio broadcasters greater flexibility in siting their FM translators—was also posted for public inspection. Describing this new procedure as a “pilot project” which aims to make “the FCC more open and transparent,” Pai promised that, if the experiment succeeds, the project “will become a Commission practice” which “will give the public much more insight into the Commission’s activities.”