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FCC Says Go on HD Throttle-Up
The FCC's Mass Media Bureau has adopted a long anticipated order allowing nearly all FM IBOC digital broadcast licensees to voluntarily increase their digital carrier power by at least 6dB, with a new application path for eligible stations to make a whopping 10dB boost. The order also establishes a regulatory process for remediation of "bona fide" interference disputes within 90 days of filings with the Commission, imposes increase limits on grandfathered "super-powered" stations, and reserves the right to revisit the issue if "significant" interference occurs.
Announcement of the order on Jan. 29 was undoubtedly a high-five moment for members of the HD Radio Alliance and staffers at HD Radio developer Ibiquity Digital. Both groups have been lobbying the Commission to move forward with a 10-fold across-the-board increase. Transmitter manufacturers, suffering an industry-wide economic downturn, are smiling as well, since a number of transmission plants already running FM HD will require substantial upgrades in order to satisfy the demands of -10dBc operation.
Reaction to the news release among the FM broadcast community was predictably mixed, given the highly polarized debate the issue stirred over the past year; radio engineering message boards have been buzzing with speculation regarding the order's impact. But unlike the one-page news release issued on Jan. 27 summarizing it, the order text gives considerable insight not only to specific details, but also to the Media Bureau's mindset in terms of its decision making.
High points of the document include:
With the exception of the interference protection and complaint remediation section (which seem to be provoking a lot of discussion on boards and forums), the new rules seem relatively straightforward. Since they take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, wholesale throttle up is likely to begin in mid March, while stations in a hurry can still file for an STA to cover them till that time.
Reaction in radio's blogosphere almost a week after the Commission's pronouncement seems mixed. Those who have been proponents of HD Radio are convinced that this step will finally secure FM HD's future. Those who have questioned the potential damage to fragile analog FM coverage see trouble ahead. Others say mobile broadband media devices may soon render the point moot, as their sales numbers far outstrip those of HD Radio devices.
Whether this latest action by the Commission will ultimately succeed in getting the now-anemic pace of FM HD station conversions moving again is yet to be seen. What's unlikely to change, at least in the short term, is the controversy over its unintended consequences for analog FM listening across the nation.
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