FCC Releases FNPRM on Multicast Licensing Rules for Transition to ATSC 3.0

The FCC has released a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) proposing rules to help preserve consumer access to ATSC 1.0 programming during the transition to ATSC 3.0 without requiring consumers to obtain new equipment.  In order to facilitate this transition, the FCC has proposed two licensing scenarios.  First, the FCC proposes allowing Next Gen TV stations to license one or more simulcast multicast streams on a host station or stations, whether the guest stream is in the 3.0 broadcast or the 1.0 simulcast stream.  In this scenario, the originating Next Gen station must air one of the simulcast multicast streams, either the 1.0 or the 3.0, on its own channel.  The FCC seeks comment on this proposal.

Second, the FCC proposes allowing Next Gen TV stations that are broadcasting in 3.0 on their own channels to license one or more multicast streams aired only in 1.0 format on a host station or stations even if they are not simulcasting the stream in 3.0 on their own channel.  This proposal would be limited to only those Next Gen TV stations that are broadcasting in 3.0 on their own channels.  The FCC anticipates this proposal will allow flexibility that will encourage Next Gen TV broadcasters to preserve the multicast streams viewers watch today and also facilitate transition to 3.0 by making it easier to continue to serve their existing viewers while 3.0 spectrum is limited.  The FCC seeks comment on this proposal.

Under both scenarios, the originating station’s multicast stream will be licensed as a temporary channel, in the same manners as its primary stream on the primary host.  Thus, each originating station’s guest multicast streams aired on a host will be considered to be an additional, separately authorized channel, under the originating station’s single, unified licenses.  The FCC states that the new licensing approach would facilitate and encourage preservation of ATSC 1.0 streams during the transition by clearly holding the originating station, not the host station, responsible for regulatory compliance regarding the multicast stream aired on the host station and by giving the FCC clear enforcement authority over the originating station.

The FCC also seeks comment on how to ensure that individual stations do not use this new flexibility to aggregate programming or broadcast spectrum on multiple stations in a market in a manner that would not otherwise be permitted, and whether to extend waiver of ownership rules to multicast stream hosting partnerships.

Comments are due on or before February 11, 2022.

Reply comments are due on or before March 14, 2022.

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