DAB update


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The Commission is on the verge of approving the Ibiquity standard for DAB (digital audio broadcasting) for a terrestrial in-band on-channel (IBOC) AM and FM system. But serious questions still exist as to the value of the system to broadcasters and whether a full-time AM system will ever work.

During NAB2002, a number of broadcasters asked what would they gain in light of the cost involved. The proponents of DAB, particularly those supporting the IBOC system, acknowledged that the short-term gains would not be dramatic, but that broadcasters could not allow themselves to be left out of the digital age. Proponents expect DAB to provide an enhanced audio fidelity using digital sound while at the same time being compatible with the existing analog service. A data-transmission component is also a possibility.

Approval of the Ibiquity FM system is looking good. The same cannot be said for AM. In fact, the bugs for the nighttime operation of a DAB AM system have clearly not been worked out. As a result, recent reports of the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC), which is sponsored by the NAB and the Consumer Electronics Association, raise serious questions about the workability of a nighttime AM operation. The URSC recommends that AM DAB be launched with a daytime-only facility. Many see this as the death knell of AM DAB and perhaps AM analog (if FM DAB ultimately supplants analog radio).

The Commission has asked for comments on the NRSC report, which also discuses the FM situation. The report evaluates laboratory and field testing of the IBOC Ibiquity system. Comments are due on June 18 with replies due July 18. The NRSC and Ibiquity filings are available electronically at www.fcc.gov/e-file/ecfs.html under MM Docket Number 99-325.

Recent enforcement actions

Pirate nabbed. U.S. marshalls arrested a man in Brooklyn, NY, for operating a pirate FM radio station on 87.9MHz. On prior occasions, the pirate had been warned by the government that his operations were unlicensed and government agents had previously confiscated his transmitting equipment. The pirate now faces as much as a year in the brig and a penalty of as much as $100,000.

Public File violations. In separate orders, the FCC fined two broadcasters for not allowing members of the public to see their public files. The radio station owner was fined $10,000. As part of his defense, the broadcaster claimed that the members of the public requesting materials did not identify specific documents that they wanted to see. The FCC reminded the broadcaster that a simple request to see the public file should be sufficient to elicit the complete file. Broadcasters are cautioned that requests from the public to view public file information should be met reasonably, and the broadcaster cannot withhold materials because the requester does not identify them with sufficient specificity. Stations may refer to Section 73.3526 of the Commission's rules (Section 73.3527 for non-commercial stations) to verify that their files are complete.

Silent station's license forfeited. In a case where a station attempted to stay on the air, but claimed that a lack of FCC staff action on an application left the station believing that it could temporarily suspend operations, the FCC nevertheless cancelled the license after 12 months of silence. The Commission ruled that it could not ignore the statutory requirement that Congress imposed when it mandated that a license automatically expires if a station is silent for 12 consecutive months. Failure to operate at all for 12 months is fatal, and the FCC has no discretion to forgive compliance or waive the rule. Silent stations must watch their calendars carefully.


Dateline:


See the chart for the FCC-proposed schedule of regulatory fees for radio stations. Payments of FY2002 fees will be due in September 2002.


Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC., Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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