FCC's Pai Pushes for ATSC 3.0

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has allocated a sizeable portion of his prepared testimony for a Senate oversight hearing to call on the FCC to authorize ATSC 3.0 by year's end.

He pointed out that back in April, broadcasters and consumer electronics companies petitioned the FCC to allow broadcasters to implement the new transmission standard in conjunction with the repack of TV stations following the spectrum incentive auction.

The comment period on that proposal closed in June, and Pai suggests it is time to act.

"There is no dispute that the next-generation broadcast standard will allow broadcasters to provide better service to the American people," he said, including watching TV on mobile devices, improved picture quality (4K), immersive audio and more localized emergency alerts.

Broadcasters have pointed out that the FCC is moving expeditiously to free up spectrum for next generation mobile broadband and wants the same courtesy when it comes to their next gen tech.

Pai agrees. "I believe that it is important for the Commission to act with dispatch. Just as the United States is leading the way on 5G in the mobile space, so too should we be at the forefront of innovation in the broadcast space."

He pointed out that South Korea has already adopted the standard. "We should get moving, too," he said.

"[A]ll we are talking about is giving broadcasters the option of using ATSC 3.0. No one would be required to do so. Let’s allow broadcasters who wish to move forward with ATSC 3.0 to pursue this pro-consumer path as quickly as possible," he said.

For him, that means a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "no later than the end of this year."

Related: ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer Approved

On April 13, the National Association of Broadcasters, Consumer Technology Association (representing receiver manufacturers and other consumer tech companies), America's Public Television Stations (noncoms) and the AWARN Alliance (broadcasters and others advocating for advanced emergency alerts) filed the joint petition asking for the flexibility to deploy the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard while still simulcasting their DTV broadcasts in the current standard—the new standard is not compatible with existing sets—so service to viewers would not be interrupted.

The next-gen system would allow for interactivity, ultra high-definition, advanced emergency alerts (where AWARN comes in), more channels in the same bandwidth, mobile broadcast TV, and datacasting, all ways for broadcasters to remain competitive in a multi-platform world.

Related: Engineers to FCC: ATSC 3.0 Should Be Cleared for Takeoff

According to the petition, the FCC would approve the standard as an option for both broadcasters and receiver manufacturers and grant permission to simulcast while the new standard is being deployed so service to viewers would not be interrupted—the new transmission standard is not compatible with current sets.

Broadcasters asked the FCC for a ruling by Oct. 1, but FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has not pledged to meet any specific timetable.

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.