The FCC at its open meeting this week adopted the Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we wrote about here when the draft order was released. The Declaratory Ruling makes clear that the leasing of television spectrum for datacasting uses does not trigger FCC multiple ownership issues (in other words, one entity can lease capacity of several TV stations for datacasting purposes, and those leases are not considered attributable ownership interests subject to the FCC’s limitations on the number of stations in a single market in which one party can have an interest). The only significant change from the draft order was the addition of a sentence making clear that a TV station moving to ATSC 3.0 does not have an attributable ownership interest in another station in the market whose spectrum it leases for its required “lighthouse” signal continuing to make its programming available to viewers in the current ATSC 1.0 transmission standard.
The substantive portions of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also were generally unchanged from the draft order. The NPRM asks about issues that the FCC needs to address to advance the opportunities offered by ATSC 3.0 datacasting (or the “Broadcast Internet” as it was referred to in this proceeding). One additional question added to the draft of the NPRM was whether the statutory prohibition of the use of the TV spectrum for datacasting in a way that degrades current over-the-air service could be read to prohibit a station from reducing its current HD service to standard definition programming to free more spectrum. The FCC notes that it now only requires a station to broadcast one Standard Definition signal and that it can change from HD to SD when it wants – but it nevertheless asks the question. Comment dates for all of the questions raised in the NPRM will be announced at a later date when the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.