On March 3, the NRB wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, urging the FCC to signal its support for a full and timely transition to the ATSC 3.0 television standard.
ATSC 3.0, known commercially as NextGen TV, is the gold standard for over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasting. This standard, approved by the FCC in 2017, boasts two-way interactivity, multi-screen applications, higher resolution, and more through a combination of broadcast TV with broadband internet. Broadcasters in many markets are already using this new technology to deliver a cutting-edge end user experience, with ATSC 3.0 stations currently available in some 68 markets covering 60 percent of U.S. homes.
However, a full transition to ATSC 3.0 is stalling, which could prove disastrous for the television broadcasting industry and even threaten its survival. Currently, television stations that upgrade to ATSC 3.0 are required to “simulcast the primary video programming stream of that signal in an ATSC 1.0 format,” a framework that has limited the ability of low-power, noncommercialtelevision stations to migrate to the new standard. Dual transmission raises the cost of transitioning by hundreds of thousands of dollars, sidelining broadcasters who may be otherwise financially prepared to migrate. It is crucial to ensure that viewers maintain access to free and local television signals through a whole-of-industry effort, but broadcasters are disproportionately burdened—and the transition is imperiled—by an indefinite dual transmission requirement.
The NRB expressed these concerns in its letter, arguing that:
As an association that represents the interests of small, local, independent, and religious broadcasters, we have observed the ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 dual transmission requirement to be both financially wasteful and unsustainable for small broadcasters. Our membership includes broadcasters who are otherwise prepared to make a full migration to ATSC 3.0 but are priced out by the dual transmission requirement. Not only is dual transmission a complicated and costly standard for independent broadcasters to maintain indefinitely, but simulcasting leaves broadcasters with too little bandwidth to provide services like ultra-high-definition TV, which plays a vital part in stimulating consumer interest in NextGen TV. This puts broadcasters at risk of losing high-value content—and viewership—to streaming platforms that can deliver a more attractive viewer experience. A plan to sunset the five-year dual transmission requirement and complete the transition to ATSC 3.0 is overdue. We respectfully urge you to review and assess the dual transmission requirement for the financial burden it places on non-commercial, non-profit entities.
In its most recent action on the issue, the FCC adopted on March 3 a temporary stay of a sunset of the requirement that ATSC 3.0 streams must comply with the ATSC A/322 standard, which defines what waveforms ATSC 3.0 signals must take. An FCC proceeding on whether the rule should end or continue is ongoing, and the FCC noted that “virtually all commenters addressing this question made arguments in favor of at least a temporary extension of the requirement to comply with A/322” as there is no indication that any consumer equipment would be able to receive 3.0 signals that are not compliant with A/322.
A full, timely transition to ATSC 3.0 will require cooperation from multiple industry sectors. Regulators must work to ensure an innovation-friendly regulatory environment, broadcasters must make their audiences aware of the benefits of NextGen TV, and manufacturers must have market incentives to include ATSC 3.0 tuners in new television sets and produce low-cost peripherals.
The NRB urges the FCC to help clear the path to a full ATSC 3.0 transition of bureaucratic obstacles and signal their support for full adoption.
Read the NRB’s full letter here.