The transition to ATSC 3.0, the next generation of television transmission, is underway as authorized by the Commission in 2017 (see our post here and our posts here, here and here on subsequent actions making that order effective and allowing TV stations to file to convert to the new standard). This week, the FCC released a draft of an item to be considered at its June open meeting dealing with lingering legal issues about the services to be provided by television stations that are part of this transition. The item to be considered, if adopted in June, will take two actions. First, it will issue a declaratory ruling that the leasing of auxiliary and supplementary spectrum capacity on digital television stations for non-broadcast uses does not trigger the application of the FCC’s multiple ownership rules, which limit the number of stations that one entity can own or program in any given TV market. Secondly, the item will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address what regulatory changes, if any, are needed to govern the types of non-broadcast content that will be provided by stations operating with this next generation television transmission standard.
The declaratory ruling addresses concerns that the use of broadcast television spectrum by various companies or consortia that plan to use that spectrum for all sorts of non-broadcast applications could trigger violations of the FCC’s ownership rules. Those rules limit one owner from owning (or providing more than 15% of the broadcast programming to) more than two television stations in a given TV market (and only one station in some smaller markets). When stations convert to ATSC 3.0, there are plans to offer a plethora of non-broadcast services, which the FCC describes in its draft decision as “Broadcast Internet” services. These services could include sending updates to smart dashboards in automobiles and in other Internet of Things smart devices, updating utility meters, providing telehealth and emergency communications information, distributing smart agriculture applications, or distributing popular pay-video programming to user’s devices. In many cases, to provide these applications, one company or consortium would seek to lease the ancillary and supplementary capacity of multiple stations in a market to assure that content was distributed as broadly as possible. The fear was that such users leasing capacity on multiple stations could be deemed to have an “attributable interest” in such stations for multiple ownership purposes or simply for purposes of having to be reported on ownership reports and other broadcast applications.
Continue Reading FCC to Consider Exemption of TV Broadcast Internet Services from Broadcast Ownership Rules and Regulations for ATSC 3.0 Non-Broadcast Services