FCC: Ownership Limits Don’t Apply to Next Gen TV Leases

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The declaratory ruling to clarify wireless infrastructure deployment rules wasn’t the only such action the FCC voted on Tuesday. Commissioners also voted to make it clear that television station ownership limits don’t apply to spectrum leases for offering Next Gen TV services using the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr calls ATSC 3.0 “broadcast internet” and says to think of it as a broadband data pipe. The standard expands the potential ancillary and supplemental uses of broadcast spectrum for new and innovative services, such as autonomous vehicles, smart agriculture, or telemedicine, that will complement the nation’s 5G networks. Stations will be able to provide these new data services using the new standard alongside their over-the-air (OTA) video programming. 

Carr’s colleague and fellow Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was a Hill staffer during the crafting of the Telecom Act of 1996. At that time, he said, authors thought broadcasters might someday be able to offer ancillary services using excess capacity once the digital transition was done. He’s glad to see the voluntary transition begin.

“Just last week, we saw Las Vegas become the first market to have four major stations broadcasting in ATSC 3.0,” O’Rielly said during the vote.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai further explained: “ATSC 3.0 can be used to deliver innovative new services related to automotive transportation, agriculture, distance learning, telehealth, public safety, utility automation, and the Internet of Things, to name a few, not to mention others we haven’t even dreamed of. Our goal should be to ensure that the market—not outdated rules—determines which new services and technologies will succeed.”

The FCC authorized ATSC 3.0 in 2017. Under the Next Gen TV technical standard, stations can transmit their OTA services more efficiently using Internet Protocol-based technologies. ATSC 3.0 has been deployed by stations in Portland, Boise, Santa Barbara, Phoenix, Dallas, Orlando, and Las Vegas. It’s expected to debut in more markets this year, according to the Chairman.

In its declaratory ruling, the Commission clarifies that a broadcast television licensee can lease spectrum to another station in the same market, or to a third party, for ancillary and supplementary services without triggering the agency’s broadcast attribution or ownership rules. 

In an accompanying Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission asks whether and how to modify its existing ancillary and supplementary service rules, adopted more than twenty years ago, in order to further promote the deployment of broadcast internet services. The agency also asks for public input about potential uses of new technical capabilities associated with ATSC 3.0 and any existing regulatory barriers to deployment.

The NAB was pleased about the vote. NAB SVP Communications Ann Marie Cumming stated the association, “appreciates the Commission’s efforts to provide greater regulatory certainty with respect to potential future uses of the Next Gen TV transmission standard. Broadcasters are excited about innovative applications this standard makes possible, in addition to the standard’s ability to unlock the next generation of television service for our viewers.”

Manufacturers announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that 20 Next Gen TVs would be on the market this year.

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