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Digital radio launched
In October the Commission announced procedures that allow AM and FM stations to immediately begin interim IBOC digital transmissions on a voluntary basis.
The IBOC system, adopted by a unanimous Commission, is now available for full-time FM and AM daytime use. Nighttime AM use will be approved only after interference problems are resolved. According to Ibiquity, AM nighttime interference problems are likely to be resolved next year.
The Commission has not set a timetable for a complete transition to digital radio. But the new IBOC technology allows radio stations to transmit the same program in analog and digital modes within their existing spectrum. Proponents of the new technology say it will improve sound quality, offer more robust signals and provide potential for new auxiliary services, such as data transmission and audio-on-demand. It is also expected to provide solid competition to satellite radio.
Just as important, the transition to digital will not be subject to the paralysis that has characterized the transition to DTV. Fraught with delay and met with a lukewarm reception from a viewing public unwilling to buy costly new sets, DTV has faced an uphill battle. Where consumers are currently asked to pay thousands of dollars for digital television receivers, it is expected that radio equipment capable of receiving digital IBOC transmissions will cost about $100 more than the equivalent analog equipment now on the market.
There is some potential difficulty with IBOC technology. Low-power FM stations fear interference. Some receivers used for radio reading services for the blind may also be impacted. IBOC licensing and service rules have not yet been adopted. Because Ibiquity is the only IBOC vendor, stations that wish to use IBOC technology will have no choice but to make arrangements with Ibiquity. When it adopted the IBOC item, the Commission announced that these and other IBOC issues will be dealt with in a future rulemaking.
IBOC broadcasts are expected to begin before the end of the year in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Miami. The average IBOC conversion cost per station is estimated at $75,000, and may vary depending on the quality of the station's infrastructure. While $75,000 may be a substantial expense for many stations, it is cheap compared to the $1 million-plus in costs associated with the conversion to DTV.
Recent enforcement actions
The FCC recently announced that in the past fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2002) the agency fined companies more than $28 million. The chief of the FCC's enforcement team claimed that the agency's enforcement actions are aimed at benefiting consumers, but that did not stop the chief from proudly announcing the multi-million dollar fine total. Some recent fines include:
$105,000 for tower violations — The FCC collected $105,000 from a North Carolina company for failing to properly paint, light and mark several towers. Although the original forfeiture notice cited all of the company's towers, the company won a $6,000 reduction by showing that one of its towers was exempt from painting and lighting requirements.
$15,000 for tower violations — An FCC agent recently visited an AM station on three consecutive days and ended up fining the station $15,000. On day one, the agent observed the towers of the station and noted that they were neither properly illuminated nor marked with the FCC-issued Antenna Registration Number. On day two, the agent dropped by the station to advise the licensee of the violations, but was told that the tower was less than 200 feet high and, therefore, exempt from marking and lighting requirements. On day three the agent returned, measured the tower and determined that it was 230 feet high. Soon thereafter the station received notice of a $15,000 fine.
$21,500 fine reduced by $10,000 — An FM station that initially was fined $21,500, had its fine reduced by nearly half when it proved that it did indeed have a public inspection file. Although the FCC noted that the file was not provided to its agent when the station was inspected, further evidence convinced the FCC that the file existed.
Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC., Arlington, VA. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 10 is the deadline for placing fourth quarter issues and programs lists in the public file. No longer required in the public file: granted applications (except contour maps or information showing main studio and transmitter location, or applications granted pursuant to a rule waiver).
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