The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing the receipt of the Petition for Rulemaking asking that the FCC allow AM stations the option to operate an all-digital facility. We wrote about that Petition here. Currently, AM digital operations are allowed only in a hybrid mode – where the station transmits both an
The broadcast trade press was abuzz this morning with a report that an Arizona AM station currently simulcasting its programming on an FM translator has asked the FCC for permission to conduct a test where it would shut down its AM for about a year and operate solely through the FM translator. To grant this request, the FCC would need to waive its rule (Section 74.1263(b)) which prohibits an FM translator station from operating during extended periods when the primary station is not being retransmitted.
This idea of turning in an AM station to operate with a paired FM translator (though, in this case, the licensee promises to return the AM to the air within a year) is not a new one and has in fact been advanced in the AM Revitalization proceeding. The proposal offers pros and cons that the FCC will no doubt weigh in evaluating this proposal, and also raises many questions about the future of the AM band.…
At the NAB Radio Show in Dallas in September, FCC Commissioner Pai promised that the FCC would take action to revitalize the AM band (see our story here). For years, AM has suffered a gradual erosion in listening, as interference on the band has increased – not necessarily from other AM stations, but instead from background noise that is now part of the environment in most urban areas. This interference is caused by everything from fluorescent lights to plasma TV screens to various other electronic devices that are prevalent in the modern world. At the NAB Show in Las Vegas the week before last, Commissioner Pai reprised his discussion of AM improvements, this time moderating a panel of experts to discuss the potential remedies to the problems faced by the AM radio service. So just what remedies may be possible?
The panel set out several possible solutions to AM interference issues, all of which have potential downsides or problems. These include the following:
- More FM translators for AM stations
- Blanket power increases for all AM stations
- A reduction in skywave protection
- The adoption of a cellular architecture for AM stations
- All-digital operation for AM stations
Let’s look at each of these options below.
After Thanksgiving – everyone’s thoughts turn to technology policy. Well, maybe not everyone, but reading Thursday’s New York Times, David Pogue wrote his column celebrating his 10th anniversary in the paper with observations about truths that he has discovered about the technology world. Many of those same truths apply to broadcast policy, and are particularly relevant with a week coming up in which the FCC may take its first steps toward dramatically reshaping the media landscape as it considers the future of the television spectrum, and potentially repurposing some of that spectrum for wireless broadband. Pogue’s first observation was that new technology does not replace old technology – instead it merely provides more choice to the consumer. He points out that TV did not replace radio, and that satellite radio didn’t replace radio either. Instead, these services became complements, perhaps eroding the audience of the established technology in some ways, and perhaps making the older technology redefine its mission, but the older technology survived, and remained relevant. We’ve written similar observations about the future of radio – it’s a technology that reaches masses with no incremental costs for adding new listeners – and is now and, for the foreseeable future will be, the most efficient way to reach large audiences with popular formats.
It is a similar story with other communications media. And we sometimes over-react to short term trends believing that some audience erosion for a particular technology will result in its doom, when in fact it may just result in some form of re-invention. In the last two years, we’ve seen print media go from being left for dead, to being part of one of the most talked about media deals of the last month – the merger between the Daily Beast and Newsweek to bring a print component to a new media darling. Television, too, is not dead yet – it still the most watched source of video programming, whether distributed over the air or through some multichannel video transmission source, with over-the-air programming about to get a new take as mobile DTV begins its roll-out in the coming months. Recently, there has even been the occasional article about consumers "cutting the cord" – relying on over-the-air TV, supplemented by web video content, to drop their cable or satellite connection. As Pogue suggests, all these media will continue to survive and offer choices to consumers. But Pogue does not take into account the potential impact of a fundamental change in regulatory policy that intervenes to disrupt the natural progression of the marketplace.
The FCC’s January 2010 Order authorizing FM radio stations to increase power on their hybrid digital radio operations was published in the Federal Register on Thursday establishing the effective date of the new rules as May 10th. As we wrote earlier, the Commission’s Order allows stations to increase from the current maximum permissible level of one percent …
This afternoon the Commission released an Order authorizing FM radio stations to increase power on their hybrid digital radio operations. This power increase is a welcome boost to HD radio operations and was eagerly awaited by many FM stations broadcasting in digital. In a nutshell, the rule change allows stations to increase from the current maximum permissible level of one percent of authorized analog effective radiated power (ERP) to a maximum of ten percent of authorized analog ERP. In raising the power permitted for digital radio operations, the Commission acknowledged that the current digital power levels are insufficient to replicate stations’ analog coverage and that indoor and portable coverage are particularly diminished. Building on proposals advocated by National Public Radio (NPR) and iBiquity, the Commission has provided for an immediate voluntary 6 dB increase in Digital ERP (except for super-powered FM stations, as discussed below). In addition, stations will be allowed to seek authority for increases over 6 dB up to a maximum of 10 dB using an informal application process.
Once the Order becomes effective, eligible FM stations may commence operations with FM digital operating power up to -14 dBc (that is, up to a 6 dB increase), consistent with the existing IBOC notification procedures. Stations availing themselves of the voluntary power increase must notify the FCC electronically of the increased digital power within 10 days of commencement using the Digital Notification form via the Commission’s Consolidated Database System (CDBS). The exception to this is super-powered FM stations, which, regardless of their class, are limited to the higher of either the currently permitted -20 dBc level or 10 dB below the maximum analog power that would be authorized for the particular class of station, as adjusted for the station’s antenna height above average terrain. The Audio Division’s web site contains an FM Super-Powered Maximum Digital ERP Calculator available here to assist super-powered stations with determining the maximum permissible Digital ERP. Licensees of super-powered FM stations must file an application, in the form of an informal request, for any increase in the station’s FM Digital ERP.
For power increases over 6 dB, licensees will be required to submit an application to the FCC, in the form of an informal request, for any increase in FM Digital ERP beyond 6 dB. Licensees wishing to operate with an FM Digital ERP in excess of -14 dBc must make a calculation and determine the station’s max permissible Digital ERP as detailed in paragraphs 17 through 20 in the Order, available here.
Last month, the FCC released a Public Notice requesting further comments on the proposal to increase the power of HD radio operations. We have written about that proceeding a number of times, including posts here and here. The increased power for the digital radio signals has been sought by many broadcasters who believe that current HD radio power levels do not produce strong enough digital signals to penetrate buildings and fully serve radio markets. On the other hand, other broadcasters fear that the increased power for the digital signals will create interference to existing analog stations operating on adjacent channels. Today, the FCC set the dates for the filing of these additional comments – comments are due on July 6, with replies due on July 17.
While comments have already been filed on the proposal to increase digital power, the FCC has raised a number of specific issues on which it wants comments, especially in light of the studies sponsored by NPR in cooperation with a number of other broadcasters, which seek to do a comprehensive review of the interference potential of higher powered digital operations. NPR is shooting to have that report to the FCC in September. The specific questions raised in the new FCC notice are:
- Whether the FCC should wait to decide on the power increase proposal until after the NPR study is done
- Whether current operations by radio stations operating in HD, and the various tests that have already been run, demonstrate the need for higher power operation on a permanent or provisional basis
- Whether new standards of interference to adjacent channel stations should be adopted, and if the interference should also protect LPFM stations
- Whether there should be specific procedures adopted to resolve any interference issues that do arise.
NPR Labs has announced that it is going to conduct a further study, financed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, of the potential of interference from a proposed increase in the power of HD Radio operations. Last year, NPR had raised issues with the proposal by Ibiquity and a number of commercial broadcasters for power …
Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored.
With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.
The FCC has requested public comment on the proposal (about which we wrote here) to increase the power of the digital radio transmissions from 1 per cent of a primary station’s power to 10 per cent of that station’s power. The proposal to increase power for stations using the HD Radio system is supposed to …