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FCC vote positions ATSC 3.0 as a new broadband pipe

ATSC 3.0, the next-gen broadcast TV signaling standard, is set up to do a lot of things – provide a conduit for 4K TV and immersive audio, deliver interactive TV, on-demand services and targeted advertising and, yes, even establish a platform for new multichannel pay-TV services.

A vote set by the FCC for next month could help pave the way for yet another item to be added to that list: "Broadcast Internet."

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced Monday that the Commission will vote next month on a plan that promotes the build-out of Broadcast Internet services that can be delivered on ATSC 3.0, an emerging standard that US broadcasters are poised to start deploying across several markets this year under the "NextGen TV" consumer brand.

Touting ATSC 3.0's one-to-many architecture, Carr holds that broadcasters will be able to use the standard paired with existing spectrum to beam out 25 Mbit/s data streams on a broad basis. And he envisions Broadcast Internet services playing a role that extends well beyond traditional home broadband.

"Broadcast Internet could play a pivotal role in autonomous vehicles, IoT, smart ag, and telemedicine, among other applications," Carr said in a statement about the planned vote. He also envisions ATSC 3.0 playing a part in 5G by augmenting coverage or adding capacity by shifting data off cellular networks.

"And for many Americans, this means that they could soon have another option for high-speed downloads – from movies to applications – delivered over the same spectrum that they've long used for over-the-air television," Carr said in keynote remarks given at an online session this week hosted by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Technology Association. "ATSC 3.0 is the technology that will allow broadcasters to play an even greater role in this converged market for connectivity."

Removing regulatory overhangs
But to build out and enable next-gen Broadcast Internet services, the FCC "should remove the overhang of legacy media regulations," Carr added. "The FCC will be voting on a measure that does just that."

That June vote will focus on a Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would "remove the overhang on legacy media regulations," said Carr, who touted ATSC 3.0 as a "new broadband pipe" in remarks at last year's NAB Show.

More specifically, the Declaratory Ruling aims to ensure that Broadcast Internet services aren't weighed down by older rules. Basically, it seeks to clarify that the FCC's broadcast TV station ownership rules do not apply to leasing arrangements between broadcasters and third parties for the provision of Broadcast Internet services. Meanwhile, the NPRM would seek comment on whether to clarify or modify existing rules to further promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services.

In practice, Carr added, the decision would pave the way for a broadcaster or another entity to strike lease agreements with multiple broadcasters in a single geographic market to provide Broadcast Internet services without triggering the FCC's attribution or ownership rules for television stations.

"This decision would help ensure that broadcasters and other innovators have the flexibility to generate the scale and geographic footprint – both locally and nationally – that may be necessary to support certain Broadcast Internet services without being subject to regulations unrelated to the provision of such services," he said.

Getting the urge to converge
Carr noted that it's been more than 20 years since the FCC last addressed these issues in the context of today's ATSC 1.0-based platform. He also noted that broadcasters, investors and tech companies will want certainty that a new array of ATSC 3.0-powered services won't be tied down by "dated rules designed to regulate television stations."

Carr said the timing is right for adjusted broadcast TV rules linked to ATSC 3.0 amid a convergence of networks spanning cable, telecom and fixed wireless/5G networks, as well as new constellations of low earth orbit satellites.

"We are entering this new era of converged competition," he said. "I think it makes sense to clear the way and let broadcasters enter that space either on their own, should they choose that, or voluntarily if they decide to lease this to other providers."

While the notion of Broadcast Internet services delivered on the ATSC 3.0 standard would open up new opportunities for broadcasters, it doesn't mean they will leave traditional broadcast TV in the dust. According to Multichannel News, the FCC ruling would not eliminate or propose to eliminate requirements that broadcasters deliver a TV signal on their primary channel.

Carr's remarks ahead of the June FCC vote enter the picture as US broadcasters prepare to deploy NextGen TV services in dozens of markets, though those rollout plans for 2020 have been trimmed back a bit or delayed due to the pandemic.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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