TV Broadcast Internet Services Regulatory Treatment Proposal Designed to Spur New Service

Posted on May 29th, 2020 by

The FCC has released a draft of a Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to clarify some legal matters surrounding the transition to ATSC 3.0, which will be voted on at their June 9th Open Meeting.  The Declaratory Ruling would immediately eliminate some regulatory uncertainties, and the rulemaking examines the need to modify other existing rules to enable and encourage full deployment of new services.

Ancillary or supplementary uses of digital television spectrum have been around for a while, but the advent of ATSC 3.0 has made deployment of such uses more likely.  Uses of digital television spectrum for other than over-the-air broadcasts is considered an “ancillary or supplementary service”, and can include a multitude of services such as communications to smart devices or automobiles, providing telehealth services or monitoring, emergency communications, or updating metered utility services.  ATSC 3.0 has created opportunities for consortia to develop uses of TV spectrum from several stations in a market at once, making the reach of such services more efficient and far-reaching.

The FCC has proposed defining such services as “Broadcast Internet” services, and if adopted, the Declaratory Ruling would make clear that use of TV spectrum by a consortia would not violate the FCC’s ownership rules, which otherwise prohibit one station from owning more than two TV stations in a market or providing more than 15% of programming for another station in a market.  Subject to an approval vote, the FCC has determined that its ownership and attribution rules apply solely to the provision of over-the-air broadcast programming, not to Broadcast Internet services.

The rulemaking presents some interesting questions, including whether non-commercial educational TV stations can include advertising in the provision of non-broadcast services and whether low power television stations require regulatory changes to enable use of their digital spectrum for such services.  You may recall that stations transitioning to ATSC 3.0 must still provide a free broadcast signal to the public.  The FCC proposes that a 480i resolution would be the minimum service required for that free signal.  The issue of how the FCC should assess fees on Broadcast Internet services is also considered, including how they should be calculated and whether they should be capped.

With this item, the FCC finally appears ready to strip away regulatory constraints to support innovation in the ATSC 3.0 world.  TV station owners should pay close attention, and participate by filing or supporting comments.  The FCC has opened a special docket for this proceeding.  Comments can be filed now or after adoption of the item at the FCC’s June 9th meeting.