Amid a blizzard of decisions released today, the FCC helped to promote a TV standard that could make it easier for broadcasters to meld 4K programming and interactive broadband data in their over-the-air transmissions.

Regulators voted unanimously to seek comment on a proposal allowing stations to voluntarily transmit signals using the ATSC 3.0 standard  — an upgrade from the current ATSC 1.0.

Commissioners made separate statements on the initiative; the FCC says ones from Commissioners Robert McDowell and Mignon Clyburn should be available later today.

Chairman Ajit Pai called broadcast TV “an indispensable part of our nation’s
communications landscape” adding that “when wireless networks go dark, or Internet access is disrupted, people still turn to their local broadcasters for life-saving information.”

What’s more, ATSC 3.0 is the “first transmission standard to marry the
advantages of broadcasting and the Internet. And it’s based on Internet Protocol, or IP, which will permit seamless integration with other IP-based services and platforms.”

Since the new standard is not backward-compatible, the FCC proposal would require stations participating in the test to maintain the signals that serve today’s TV sets and tuners.

The new FCC plan would not require cable and satellite companies that carry stations’ programming to retransmit the ATSC 3.0 signals. Stations using the new standard would still be subject to FCC’s public interest obligations.

Regulators appear unwilling to give stations additional spectrum to offer current and ATSC 3.0 signals, the way they did a decade ago in the lead up to the national transition from analog to digital TV. The FCC also probably won’t help low-income viewers who can’t afford to pay for new technology.

Industry groups applauded the decision.

It offers “free and local TV viewers the promise of higher-quality pictures and sound, mobile viewership, datacasting and lifesaving interactive emergency information,” National Association of Broadcasters EVP Dennis Wharton says. “With support from television manufacturers, public TV stations and the public safety community, NAB looks forward to Next Gen TV’s giant leap into broadcasting’s bright future.”

Patrick Butler, CEO of America’s Public Television Stations says that ATSC 3.0 “holds tremendous promise for enhancing the public service missions of public television – education, public safety and civic leadership – in addition to dramatically improving the viewing experience of our audience and providing critical mobile capability to first responders and the public as a whole.”

But the cable, satellite, and telco supported American Television Alliance warns that the change “raises questions about costs, required new equipment, and the relationship between broadcasters and distributors. The transition to ATSC 3.0 signals, moreover, promises to be costly and complicated, notwithstanding broadcaster claims to the contrary.”

In addition to the ATSC 3.0 vote, the FCC voted along party lines to increase the number of Internet providers that can keep customers in the dark about data caps, fees, and network performance, among other things. The FCC now exempts ISPs with 250,000 or fewer customers, up from the previous waiver for those with 100,000 or less.

The FCC calls the requirement “excessive.”

American Cable Association CEO Matthew Polka says the disclosures “impose unreasonable costs” on small providers “while providing little, if any, benefit for end users and edge providers.”

But Public Knowledge General Counsel Ryan Clough says the change means that it will become “harder for many more subscribers to make informed decisions and hold their providers accountable. How can it be good for consumers if companies conceal anything about the price, speed, and data caps for their broadband service?”