Effective yesterday, May 28, the FCC is accepting applications for television stations to begin to convert to the next generation TV transmission standard – ATSC 3.0 or “NexGen TV.” Last week, the Commission issued a Public Notice announcing that the form (FCC Form 2100) necessary for stations to apply to transition to the new standard is now available for both full-power (Schedule B to Form 2100), low power (Schedule D) and Class A TV stations (Schedule F). Only stations currently sharing channels as part of a Commission-approved channel sharing agreement following the FCC’s incentive auction are not able to apply for the transition at this point, as the FCC Form needs further revisions to its forms to accommodate applications for the transition by these stations. Those forms are expected later this year. In the interim, sharing stations can move forward with 3.0 operations by seeking Special Temporary Authority.
ATSC 3.0 promises to allow broadcasters to transmit more information through their 6 MHz channel – allowing for additional subchannels of programming or more data transmission capabilities that could be sold to those needing to transmit digital information to the wide areas served by TV stations. The transmission standard is far more mobile-friendly than the current standard and also allows for transmissions in an IP format compatible with so many other digital devices receiving information from Internet sources. But the standard is not backward compatible – meaning that to receive the new television signals consumers will need new TV sets with ATSC 3.0 receivers, or converters to provide the signal to existing TV sets. Thus, to ensure that consumers will not lose access to the over-the-air television signals they now receive, the FCC requires that stations converting to the new standard must also simulcast their primary video signal on a station in their market that continues to operate in the current ATSC 1.0 standard. Low power TV stations do not have this simulcasting obligation, meaning they can convert to 3.0 operations and leave the 1.0 standard behind.
The new form will be filed by stations seeking to convert to ATSC 3.0. It will require that the full power or Class A TV station identify a host for its ATSC 1.0 “lighthouse” signal. Eventually, once a station has converted to ATSC 3.0, the form will also be used to seek approval for changes in the ATSC 1.0 host station, or changes in the ATSC 3.0 channel on which the station’s programming is transmitted. If, for any reason, the station wants to convert back to ATSC 1.0, the form is also required for that purpose. Other than to permanently discontinue the ATSC 1.0 transmissions at some point in the future, the ATSC 1.0 host station will not need to file anything with the FCC as long as its technical facilities do not need to change as a result of hosting the programming of a station that has converted to the NexGen TV standard.
We have heard that the FCC plans to move quickly on applications for ATSC 3.0 operations, but the Public Notice states that stations currently operating with experimental authorizations should allow at least 30 days to get permanent approval to operate with their ATSC 3.0 facilities. If the Commission does indeed move quickly, and if the NexGen coalitions follow through on recent promises that they are ready to roll out the new television transmission standard in the largest TV markets, consumers may soon be seeing the deployment of these signals in many markets. And stay tuned for the rollout of ATSC 3.0 television receivers in the big box stores, perhaps by the end of this year.