Parties from the broadcast and cable industries and from the public interest sector offered the FCC a range of viewpoints on proposed agency rules that would govern voluntary implementation of the next-generation ATSC 3.0 broadcast transmission standard. While no respondent objected explicitly to the introduction of ATSC 3.0, broadcasters urged the FCC to prescribe a light regulatory touch that allows for flexibility. As public interest groups voiced concern about the impact of ATSC 3.0 on broadcast coverage and consumer costs, multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) urged the FCC to build protections into its rules that would prevent broadcasters from using ATSC 3.0 as a tool to pressure MVPDs into paying more for retransmission rights.

By a unanimous vote, the FCC launched proceedings in February on proposed rules that would permit television broadcasters to deploy ATSC 3.0 on a voluntary, market-driven basis as long as they continue to offer existing digital ATSC 1.0 signals in simulcast mode. As part of that plan, MVPDs would be required to maintain carriage of ATSC 1.0 signals but would not be required to carry signals in ATSC 3.0 format. In addition to soliciting comment on these rules, the FCC also requested input on (1) the tentative conclusion that an ATSC 3.0 tuner mandate for new television receivers is not needed, (2) the extent, if any, to which ATSC 3.0 transmissions would interfere with existing DTV operations, and (3) whether broadcasters should be required to educate their viewers about ATSC 3.0 deployment.

While touting the benefits of ATSC 3.0, which will allow broadcasters “to provide ultra-high definition video and immersive audio, reliable mobile broadcasting and data services, and consumer interactivity,” Nexstar Media recommended adoption of “only those minimal regulations necessary to permit broadcasters to voluntarily implement ATSC 3.0.” Mirroring these sentiments, four broadcast and technology entities led by the National Association of Broadcasters advised the FCC in joint comments that the agency “should adopt only those rule changes that are necessary to permit broadcasters to move forward with deployment, and allow consumers to determine how that deployment unfolds.”

Maintaining that it has been “party to a number of negotiations during which broadcasters have, in fact, sought to tie carriage of their ATSC 1.0 signal with a yet-to-be-authorized 3.0 signal,” DISH Network emphasized that the FCC should specify that retransmission of an ATSC 3.0 signal cannot be tied to MVPD carriage of an ATSC 1.0 signal. Along these lines, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association called for “rules to protect against broadcasters attempting to use ATSC 3.0 to impose costly burdens on cable operators and their customers,” particularly as “transmission of these signals will consume more network capacity than ATSC 1.0 transmissions, potentially forcing removal of other programming and services.”

Wireless association CTIA told the FCC, meanwhile, that the transition to ATSC 3.0 should not complicate or delay the post-incentive auction channel repacking process. Public interest groups such as the Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and New America’s Open Technology Institute stressed that the ATSC 3.0 transition should not degrade broadcast coverage or signal quality and that “consumers should not be worse off or involuntarily bear additional costs as a result of the transition.”