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FCC Lets Class A Low Powers Kick Tires on ATSC 3.0

The FCC is allowing a test of the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard in the Portland, Ore., area.

The grant (opens in new tab), which was reported by the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, is for six months on four channels (16, 20, 35, 38) and was requested by (opens in new tab) WatchTV's class A low-power outlets KORS-CD, KOXI-CD, KKEI-CD, and KORK-CD.

Also backing the test, according to WatchTV, is a "manufacturer of broadcast transmitters for the U.S. market."

"We therefore conclude that the public interest would be served by the grant of this request since the information obtained from the experiment may be valuable to the Commission's broadband initiative," said the FCC's Media Bureau in granting the request. Among the applications for the IP-based ATSC 3.0 is wireless broadband backhaul, as well as delivering broadcasts to mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.

The goal of the test is to study the propagation characteristics of the signal in mountainous terrain, its capacity to deliver multiple data streams as well as TV programming in multiple formats and to test the benefits of multiple frequencies, and the robustness of delivery to mobile devices.

Information from the test could help inform the FCC as it prepares to allow stations across the country to roll out the new standard.

The FCC is voting Thursday on FCC chairman Ajit Pai's proposal, which will still take months after that to gather comment on and finalize an order, to allow broadcasters to start rolling out the new standard on a voluntary basis so long as they continue to simulcast their primary signal in the current ATSC standard (3.0 is not compatible with current TVs).

The FCC's Media Bureau, in granting the Oregon test, said it was persuaded there was unlikely to be interference from the test but cautioned that an experimental facility is secondary and could be cut off if there was interference.

The FCC put conditions on the test in addition to the six-month time frame. WatchTV has to 1) make a "good faith" effort to notify hospitals and nursing homes in case they might be affected; 2) must file a report when they ask for a renewal of the test, and inform the FCC of any problems during the test "at the time they occur," and 3) provide a report on the results at the conclusion of the test.

The test will not be public, per se—the receivers were too expensive to supply any to the public, according to WatchTV, though if someone had an ATSC 3.0 receiver in any of the viewing areas, they could see it. There will also be no commercial application as part of the test, or any two-way interactivity, which ATSC 3.0 will allow for in commercial applications.

WatchTV must also share its results with the National Association of Broadcasters and the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

"We are very pleased to have the opportunity to further explore the many outstanding capabilities of ATSC 3.0. Additionally, we are most grateful to the staff at the FCC, for their rapid assessment and approval of our experimental application," said Greg Herman, president of WatchTV, in a statement.

Back in April 2016, when the National Association of Broadcasters, America’s Public Television Stations, the  AWARN Alliance (ATSC 3.0 allows for interactive emergency alerts), and the Consumer Technology Association sought permission to roll out the standard, WatchTV told the FCC it was ready to transition right away and said the new standard might be "the best way to help Class A and LPTV stations create the new business models they will need to function in the 21st Century.

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.