FCC Seeking Comment on Potential Rule Change for ATSC 3.0 Signals

Federal Trade Commission LogoEarlier this month, we reported on the Federal Communications Commission considering rule changes that would affect the rollout of ATSC 3.0, or “next-gen” TV. And now, the FCC says it’s adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking and is now seeking comment on the matter.

The rule in question focuses on how over-the-air (OTA) signals are transmitted. Instead of a single broadcast tower, broadcasters can use what’s called a distributed transmission systems, or DTS. With this model, multiple transmission sites are spread throughout the coverage area, potentially boosting overall signal reception, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

However, current rules limit how close those smaller transmission sites can get to the borders of a broadcaster’s authorized service area. Essentially, the closer those sites are to those borders, the greater the risk of signals spilling over into another broadcaster’s coverage area and potentially causing interference.

The FCC expects 2020 to be a big year for ATSC 3.0, which paves the way for OTA 4K signals and other perks, and so it’s considering amending certain rules to help make the transition easier. Both the National Association of Broadcasters and America’s Public Television Stations petitioned the FCC to consider changing its DTS rules, claiming the current standards were put in place more than a decade ago, back when digital TV was still in its infancy in the US.

The rule change would allow DTS signals to spill over further beyond a broadcaster’s service area, and the FCC says it’s looking for comments on not only how the change could help broadcasters, but also how it could impact other parties, including TV translators and low-power TV stations. Opponents, including Microsoft, have said broadcasters can achieve better DTS site placement without the rule change, and have argued that easing up on the signal spillover could negatively affect smaller, rural broadcasters.

With ATSC 3.0 expected to launch in dozens of major markets this year, we’ll definitely be keeping close watch on how the FCC and broadcasters are prepping for the next big thing in OTA.

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