Federal regulators gave an initial green light to a proposal to dramatically upgrade broadcast TV.
On Thursday, the FCC took a step toward approving use of a new TV standard that promises over-the-air viewers will get an Ultra High Definition picture, interactivity, immersive audio, advance emergency alerts, mobile reception and other features.
The standard is dubbed Next Generation TV, or ATSC 3.0, and it has long been on the wish list of Washington’s broadcast lobby as they have watched broadband providers cast themselves as the medium of the future.
The FCC’s action, in a 3-0 vote, merely puts the proposal up for comment.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that the proposal would enable broadcast innovation.
“It’s the first transmission standard to marry the advantages of broadcasting with the internet,” he said, adding that he would like the proposal to come back for a final vote by the end of the year.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly noted that the new standard would allow broadcasters to better compete with other platforms.
It would make 3.0 transmissions voluntary, meaning that stations will not be forced to switch to a new standard. That is what happened in 2009, when stations migrated to digital broadcasting, a massive change that in many cases compelled viewers to purchase new sets.
The proposal calls for requiring that stations that choose to deploy the Next Gen TV transmissions continue to provide their existing channels to their viewers. Cable and satellite providers would continue to be required to carry the current broadcast signals, but not the new signals.
The proposal also does not require that manufacturers install tuners to obtain the signals.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted for the proposal but said that she had concerns over the transition to the new standard and whether low-income consumers will bear the cost. She also said questions remained about the impact of the new standard on smaller stations, which may not have the means to upgrade.