The FCC has recently released a number of notices and orders involving the transition of television stations to the ATSC 3.0 standard and implementation of the new standard. The FCC is also seeking comments on several new proposals. Comments are due by August 17, 2020.
I. Public Notice Announcing the Acceptance of Applications to Provide ATSC 3.0 Service
In 2017, the FCC established the basic rules for the ATSC 3.0 format. In 2019, the FCC began accepting applications for TV stations to provide ATSC 3.0 service (which is often referred to as “Next Gen TV”).
The FCC requires a full power or Class A TV station which transmits its signal in the ATSC 3.0 format to continue to simulcast its primary video programming in the current ATSC 1.0 format. But because a station cannot, as a technical matter, broadcast in ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 formats simultaneously from the same facility, a station that broadcasts in ATSC 3.0 (referred to as the “guest” station) is required to identify another station in its market (the “host” station) to broadcast either the guest station’s ATSC 1.0 or 3.0 stream from the host station’s facilities. If the host station broadcasts the 1.0 stream, its signal must cover the full power guest station’s community of license. For a Class A guest station, the host station must meet a coverage standard based on contour overlap and mileage. Applications to commence 3.0 service must describe how the station will meet this simulcast requirement, or request a waiver of the requirement. The simulcast requirement does not apply to LPTV or TV translator stations.
The FCC will consider requests for waiver of the simulcast requirement in certain situations described below. To commence ATSC 3.0 service, change a simulcast host station, or discontinue ATSC 3.0 service, a station must receive authorization from the FCC.
II. Report and Order on Simulcast Waivers and Other Matters
In June, the FCC addressed a number of matters. The FCC previously had determined that to obtain a waiver of the simulcast requirement, a full power or Class A station must show that there is no viable simulcasting partner in its market, and it would make reasonable efforts to minimize impact of the loss of ATSC 1.0 service on viewers. In its June Order, the FCC said it will presume that the “no viable simulcasting partner” requirement is met if there are fewer than three full power potential simulcasting partners (or for a Class A station, three Class A potential simulcasting partners) in the market. With respect to the “reasonable efforts to minimize impact” requirement, the FCC said it will look favorably on a waiver request in which the applicant commits to provide ATSC 3.0 converter devices at no or low cost to over-the-air households located within its community of license that will no longer be able to receive the station’s 1.0 signal. The FCC also said it would consider other means of minimizing the impact of loss of the 1.0 service on an individual basis. The FCC expects the Media Bureau to process applications which include waiver requests within 60 days.
The FCC reiterated that there are no must carry rights for ATSC 3.0 signals while the simulcasting requirement remains in effect. Stations that continue to broadcast a 1.0 stream will continue to have must carry rights with respect to that stream, but a station which converts to 3.0 pursuant to a simulcast waiver will essentially forfeit its must carry rights.
The FCC rejected the use of vacant channels in the TV band to satisfy the simulcast requirement and confirmed that a station which moves its 1.0 service to a host station would not incur any change in its significantly viewed status.
The requirement that programming on the ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel be “substantially similar” to the programming on the station’s primary 3.0 stream is scheduled to end on July 17, 2023. This termination will eliminate the simulcast requirement. The FCC noted that, approximately a year before the sunset date, it will seek comment on whether that date should be extended. The FCC also said it would seek comment on extending the March 6, 2023 sunset date for the requirement that broadcasters adhere to the ATSC A/322 standard for their primary 3.0 streams.
These provisions will become effective on August 17, 2020.
III. Declaratory Ruling and NPRM on Potential Rule Changes and Fees
The FCC also released a Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that clarified that the lease of TV spectrum for what the FCC calls “Broadcast Internet” services (i.e., non-traditional services provided over television spectrum, primarily those made possible through use of the ATSC 3.0 format) does not trigger an attributable interest under the FCC’s ownership rules. As a result, if Station A leases spectrum from Station B in the same market to provide broadcast internet services for third parties, Station A will not be considered to have an attributable interest in Station B.
The FCC is now seeking comment on whether there are any current FCC rules which should be modified or eliminated to promote the deployment of broadcast internet services, such as changes that could facilitate spectrum partnership or leasing arrangements. The FCC noted that its current rules require TV stations which provide “ancillary or supplementary services” to transmit at least one stream of free over-the-air programming comparable in resolution to SD analog programming, and that such ancillary or supplementary services are subject to FCC rules applicable to analogous services. The FCC asked for comment on whether, in light of technological and other changes in the television industry, such rules should be modified. The FCC also asked whether any current rules would limit the ability of public television stations to provide new services using the ATSC 3.0 format.
The FCC is also seeking comment on whether it should clarify or modify its rules regarding the service fees stations that provide ancillary or supplementary services must pay to the FCC. These fees are currently set at 5% of gross revenues derived from ancillary and supplementary services. The FCC seeks input on whether the rules for calculating the fees should be changed, including whether the fees should apply only after a certain revenue threshold is reached, and whether certain types of services (e.g., telemedicine) should be exempt from fees on public service grounds.
Comments are due by August 17, 2020 and Reply Comments are due by August 31, 2020.
Please contact us if you have questions about these recent ATSC 3.0 developments or are interested in filing comments in the open proceeding.