The FCC adopted rules for the digital operation of FM radio stations (known as HD Radio or the Ibiquity In Band On Channel system – IBOC for short) in 2007 and allowed the Media Bureau to amend those rules as technical developments warranted. In 2010, the Bureau authorized an increase in the power level of the digital portion of
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.
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…
A recent proposal to increase the power levels at which HD Radio stations operate – to improve coverage and, perhaps more importantly, building penetration so that people can receive digital channels inside buildings – has been the subject of a cautionary study released by National Public Radio. That study was summarized in a story in the NPR magazine Current (an executive summary can be found here, and the entire 280 page study is here). The study agrees that an increase in power suggested by the recent proposal would increase HD Radio coverage and significantly increase building penetration, but it would do so only at the cost of causing interference to existing analog stations – in some cases significant interference. Such interference would be especially troublesome in receivers in cars, where radio broadcasters have long concentrated some of their most important programming to capture people in the place where competing entertainment options are most limited.
The NPR study does suggest that there could be ways to limit the interference using directional antennas or lessening power but using digital boosters that could be tuned slightly off-center on their frequencies to protect adjacent channel stations. HD radio operates on the sides of a station’s analog channel (thus its original name – "IBOC" for In-Band On-Channel), thus potentially causing interference to adjacent channel stations. By suppressing the signal on the side of the signal nearest to the adjacent channel station and sending the digital bits out of the other side of the channel, some of this interference could be minimized. Yet systems capable of such protections have not yet been fully developed.
In a proposal filed by many of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters, a request was made that the FCC allow FM stations operating with the HD Radio (or "IBOC system" – for "In Band On Channel" as the digital signal is transmitted on the same channel as the current analog signal) to increase power…
Last Friday, the rules on over-the-air digital radio for AM and FM stations – the IBOC system or, as it is commonly known, HD Radio – became effective. The most immediate effect of the new rules, which we summarized here, is the ability of AM stations to operate using the IBOC system at night. The Commission determined that such operation offered more benefits than any interference it might create. The final rules also allowed stations to begin digital operations – and multicast operations – on a permanent basis without prior FCC approval. As these rules take effect, some stations are beginning to look to the multicast channels to provide new programming opportunities.
NPR has, in many ways, led the efforts to utilize digital radio for multicast operations. In today’s Washington Post, there is an article about the city’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, which has recently announced plans to take its multicast operations to a new level. WAMU had in the past programmed a substantial amount of bluegrass music, a local DC favorite. Over time, that programming had been reduced as the station broadcast more and more talk programming. The station had moved bluegrass to a full time Internet radio stream, and has now announced plans to move all of the remaining bluegrass and roots music programming (which had been limited to Sundays) to one of its IBOC digital multicast streams – and to include live announcers during at least some of this digital programming. The Post article quotes the station manager as saying that the local Best Buy now knows that HD Radio is different from the service that XM or Sirius provide.
The FCC today issued the long-awaited text of its decision on Digital Audio radio – the so-called IBOC system. As we have written, while adopted at its March meeting, the text of the decision has been missing in action. With the release of the decision, which is available here, the effective date of the new rules can be set in the near future – 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. With the Order, the Commission also released its Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing a host of new issues – some not confined to digital radio, but instead affecting the obligations of all radio operations.
The text provides the details for many of the actions that were announced at the March meeting, including authorizing the operation of AM stations in a digital mode at night, and the elimination of the requirements that stations ask permission for experimental operations before commencing multicast operations. The Order also permits the use of dual antennas – one to be used solely for digital use – upon notification to the FCC. In addition, the order addresses several other matters not discussed at the meeting, as set forth below.