FCC Adopts IBOC Ruling


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Washington - Mar 22, 2007 - During its open agenda meeting held today, the FCC accepted the standing Second Report and Order, First Order on Reconsideration, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning various service rules and other requirements for radio stations broadcasting digital signals with the in-band, on-channel system developed by Ibiquity. The action changes several procedural aspects for stations who operate using the HD Radio system. The most notable change allows AM stations to transmit a hybrid IBOC signal fulltime and not just during the daytime hours.

Other key elements of the proceeding:

  • The action streamlines the procedures to allow FM multicasting without prior FCC authority
  • It allows FMs to use separate antennas without applying for special temporary authority
  • It allows FM stations to operate in extended hybrid mode operation
  • It allows IBOC operation by FM translator, FM booster and LPFM stations.

For stations to transmit an HD Radio signal, the order requires stations to provide a free digital signal that is comparable to existing analog signal quality, and that the main channel analog signal and the HD1 signal must be the same program. Stations are allowed to allocate their bandwidth as they like to transmit multiple audio streams and data services at their discretion. In addition, stations are allowed to lease their unused bandwidth to third parties, subject to certain regulatory requirements.

Operationally, IBOC stations are required to observe the same EAS, political broadcasting, station ID and sponsor identification rules that apply to main-channel streams on all free programming streams. The Second Report and Order refrains from mandating a conversion schedule for stations to commence IBOC transmissions, and the order does not yet authorize exclusive digital operations at this time. Further, the Second R&O defers consideration of the digital radio standards already approved by the National Radio Systems Committee until a later date. The order also recognizes that further negotiations are taking place between the United States and other countries to resolve possible disputes concerning IBOC operation.

One major issue surrounding DAB has been the possibility of imposing a content control requirement to prevent listeners from archiving and redistributing digital music recordings. The order does not include anything on this, deferring that discussion to a later date, noting that negotiations on this issue are still pending.

The First Order on Reconsideration dismisses several pending petitions for reconsideration and petitions for rulemaking that ask the commission to reconsider the adoption of the IBOC system as the designated technology for DAB transmission.

The Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks further comment on the appropriate limits to the amount of subscription services that may be offered by terrestrial radio stations. It also seeks comment on whether to impose statutory and regulatory public interest requirements on subscription services, and whether the commission should adopt additional public interest requirements for DAB.

Radio magazine observations: This FCC action will obviously be applauded by Ibiquity and the broadcasters who have made the commitment to adopt HD Radio technology. Because the ruling does not include mandates for stations to commence IBOC operations, it’s allowing the market to decide. Stations that oppose the system still have the choice not to adopt the technology.

The action does not mandate stations to provide specific community-interest, local or minority-related programming on multicast streams, which Commissioner Adelstein and Commissioner Copps noted in their dissenting comments. In addition, Copps noted that if station licensees are able to provide multiple program streams that there may no longer be reason to allow a licensee to own multiple stations within a market. Commissioners Taylor-Tate, McDowell and Martin believe that licensees will do the right thing and use the additional streams to provide public interest programming on their own.

Allowing AM stations to commence IBOC transmissions at night will be a hotly contested decision. The IBOC opponents will be vocal on this issue, and the proponents will likely state that this is all the more reason to move to all-digital transmissions as soon as possible. Either way, having AM hybrid stations operate at night will provide more information and real-world data on AM IBOC.



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