By a unanimous vote yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) soliciting comment on the implementation of the nextgeneration television broadcast standard, known as ATSC 3.0, alongside the current ATSC 1.0 digital television standard. The IP-based ATSC 3.0 standard is expected to significantly expand opportunities for broadcasters to deliver live television and other video programming to smart phones, tablet PCs and other wireless devices.

Mirroring the draft document that was released to the public earlier this month by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the NPRM proposes to authorize broadcast industry deployment of ATSC 3.0 on a voluntary, market-driven basis. As stated in an FCC news release, the NPRM would also mandate local simulcasting for stations that elect to deploy ATSC 3.0, thereby ensuring that current digital ATSC 1.0 signals will continue to be offered alongside the new standard. Stakeholder input is requested on these proposals and on proposals that would require cable operators, satellite TV providers and other multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to maintain ATSC 1.0 signal carriage, but not require MVPD carriage of ATSC 3.0 signals. Comment is also sought on (1) the tentative conclusion that an ATSC 3.0 tuner mandate for new television receivers is not needed at this time, (2) the extent, if any, to which ATSC 3.0 transmissions would interfere with existing DTV operations “or any other services that operate in the TV bands or in adjacent bands,” and (3) whether broadcasters should be required to educate their viewers about ATSC 3.0 deployment and ATSC 1.0 simulcasts.

Pai voiced hope that final rules would be adopted by the end of this year “so that American broadcasters can deliver to our nation’s citizens even more of the marvels of the digital age.” Despite her support for the NPRM, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn acknowledged she had several concerns about the transition to ATSC 3.0, noting, among other things, that there is no plan to provide consumers with converter box subsidies as was done during the DTV transition a decade ago.