CTA Warns of ATSC 3.0 'Chaos' Without Modulation Standard

The Consumer Technology Association is telling the FCC there could be "chaos in the marketplace" and consumer rejection of the next gen TV transmission standard unless the commission gives TV manufacturers some regulatory certainty about just how those signals will be delivered, specifically the modulation standard for the A/322 physical layer protocol.

That protocol allows broadcasters to balance tradeoffs between signal robustness and data capacity.

The CTA call to avoid chaos came in a letter Thursday (Oct. 19) to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other commissioners.

The chairman has signaled he wanted to vote a final order on a framework for the voluntary rollout of the ATSC 3.0 standard by the end of the year and there has been recent activity in the comment docket in the run-up to the Oct. 26 tentative agenda for the Nov. 16 meeting, where the ATSC 3.0 vote could be scheduled. An FCC spokesman had no comment on the timing of the vote on a final order.  

CTA joined TV broadcasters in petitioning for the voluntary rollout, and reiterated its support, but with a caveat.

On behalf of companies selling approximately 40 million TV sets a year in the U.S., CTA said, the FCC needs to specifically define the modulation standard for ATSC 3.0.

"Unlike in the wireless context, where a small handful of nationwide carrier-providers are able to dictate to phone manufacturers what technology to incorporate into devices," CTA told the chairman and commissioners, "no single broadcaster or broadcast group has the requisite market power to dictate to television manufacturers what technology to incorporate into television sets."

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (the "ATSC" in ATSC 3.0) specified the A/322 modulation standard. CTA wants to make sure the FCC bakes that into the rollout--both the ATSC A/322:2016 “Physical Layer Protocol” and ATSC A/3 21:2016--as well as a method for the TV services to be displayed on mobile and fixed devices.

CTA says the transition can only be a success "if manufacturers and the American public have certainty that the television sets and other reception devices they manufacture (in the case of the former) or purchase (in the case of the latter) are capable of adequately receiving ATSC 3.0 signals."

In the notice of proposed rulemaking proposing the ATSC 3.0 rollout and adopted unanimously by the FCC back in February, the FCC sought input on whether to incorporate A/322. That came after LG and others said that would be necessary to "ensure that broadcasters will have the flexibility to operate certain types of single frequency networks.

LG also suggested that would also obviate the need to circle back and deal with A/322 in a later rulemaking.

At the time CTA and broadcasters filed the petition, the FCC pointed out at the time, A/321 had been ratified by ATSC for the physical layer, but not A/322, which has since been ratified as part of that physical layer.

The FCC wanted to know what the benefits and drawbacks would be of incorporating A/322. CTA suggests a big benefit is avoiding "chaos."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.