For many years, the FCC’s Audio Division has allowed the rebroadcast of FM multicast HD signals on FM translators. Recognizing that HD receivers are still not widely available, the analog FM translator makes these digital subchannels widely available. See our post here from 2010 about a case where the FCC approved such rebroadcasts. Yesterday, the Audio Division released another decision dismissing objections against an FM translator license application, where the petitioner argued that the translator licensee, using two translators at the same location to rebroadcast different HD channels, was violating the FCC rule that prohibits two translators serving substantially the same area from rebroadcasting the same programming. The decision concluded that the rule prohibited the rebroadcast of the same “signal” or “programming” in the same area on two different translators, but permitted translators that rebroadcast different HD channels of the same station, as long as those channels had different programming.

So the common practice of rebroadcasting HD signals on FM translators has been blessed once again – at least for now. In the decision, the following statement was made:

the Commission has not yet adopted specific rules governing the technical details of rebroadcasting digital subchannels over FM translators. In 2007, the Commission stated that a fuller record was needed before promulgating specific rules regarding “use of FM translators and boosters to rebroadcast multiplexed audio streams.” Pending further Commission action on this matter, we rely on existing rules and precedent to dispose of the subject Applications and Petitions

This implies that the Commission could, at some point, change its current practice and adopt limits on the use of translators to rebroadcast HD subchannels. We have no reason to believe that any change in policy is imminent, but thought that we should pass along this warning that the rules on this practice have never been set in stone so anyone contemplating such operations needs to carefully weigh any risks.