ATSC logo-1New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing rules that would authorize television broadcasters to use the Next Gen TV transmission standard on a voluntary basis. Chairman Pai released the NPRM to the public prior to its presumed adoption at the upcoming FCC open meeting as part of his pilot project aimed at increasing the transparency of FCC rulemaking.

This new transmission standard was developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (we previously wrote about the new transmission standard here), a diverse group of representatives from the media and telecommunications industry whom also developed the current television transmission standard, DTV. The new standard has accordingly been dubbed “ATSC 3.0.”

The NPRM itself stems from a Joint Petition for Rulemaking filed in April 2016. ATSC 3.0’s proponents claimed in that petition that the souped-up standard comes with ultra-high definition video, immersive audio, and content personalization. It will also supposedly improve reception on mobile devices and television receivers without outdoor antennas and come equipped with an advanced Emergency Alert System capable of waking up sleeping devices to warn consumers of imminent emergencies.

From a technical standpoint, the new standard consists of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing and Layered Division Multiplexing. Broadcasters are developing ATSC 3.0 with the intent to merge the capabilities of over-the-air broadcasting with the broadband viewing and information delivery of the Internet, using the same 6 MHz channels now allocated for DTV.

As one of Chairman Pai’s first initiatives since taking over from former Chairman Wheeler, the NPRM signals that the new standard has captured the attention of the Commission, or at least its imagination. The NPRM takes a “wait and see” approach, by proposing that MVPDs not yet be required to carry the ATSC 3.0 signals, and permitting broadcasters to implement the standard on a voluntary basis. Chairman Pai characterized this approach as “market-driven”; rather than hastily promulgate rules for ATSC 3.0, the Commission hopes to “facilitate private sector innovation.”

The Commission also seeks public input on issues such as what portions of the new standard should be incorporated into its preexisting rules. The agency proposes requiring simulcasting for stations transmitting using the new format so their viewers would still receive the same programing as what is transmitted using the existing ATSC 1.0 standard. It also seeks comment on interference concerns for existing DTV operations or for any other services or devices that operate in the TV bands or in adjacent bands. The Commission has also tentatively decided not to adopt an ATSC 3.0 tuner mandate for new TV receivers; it would like public input on this as well and on whether broadcasters should be required to educate the public about the transition.

Although the NPRM has not yet been adopted, and accordingly no comment deadlines have been set, interested parties eventually will submit comments under Docket 16-142. The item is scheduled for consideration at the Commission’s February 23 open meeting.