Two long awaited broadcast items seem to be missing in action at the FCC. Both the final rules on digital radio ("HD radio") and the Commission’s Notice of Proposed rulemaking on using FM translators to fill in gaps of the signals of AM stations, while expected quite a while ago, have still not been released by the FCC. The digital radio item, adopting rules on digital radio, eliminating the need to file for experimental authority for multi-channel FM operations and allowing AM stations to operate digitally at night, was adopted by the FCC at its meeting in March, yet the final text of the decision still hasn’t been released. As the text has not been released, the effective date of the new rules has not been set. Those AM stations ready to kick on their nighttime digital operations continue to wait.
As we explained in our previous posting on this matter, here, the digital radio order also contains a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing issues such as the public interest obligations of broadcasters on their multicast digital channels. That was one of the items that was supposedly delayed the action that finally occurred at the March meeting, and perhaps it is delaying the release of the text of the order in this proceeding
Many also expected that the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on allowing AM stations to use FM translators to fill in gaps in their service areas, particularly at night, would be released by now. See our post on the comments of Commissioner McDowell at the NAB Leadership Conference in February, here. Yet that Notice also has yet to surface from the FCC. As we’ve remarked before, there are many issues pending with respect to FM translators (including their relationships with LPFM stations), so this proceeding is quite complicated, again perhaps explaining the delays.
Nevertheless, broadcasters remain anxious for these actions from the FCC on these very important issues. It is interesting how, on some issues, the FCC can move remarkably fast (for instance in issuing the lengthy Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on setting the auction rules for the 700 MHz spectrum reclaimed from analog television, despite some very contentious issues), yet other proceedings seem to lag. Let’s hope that the lag in these cases isn’t for much longer.