FCC Advisors Tackle Noise Floor Issues
will come as a surprise to absolutely no one reading this that there’s a radio
noise spectrum problem. Will a new effort at the Federal Communication Commission bring real improvement?
Technological Advisory Council is finally set to investigate changes and trends
to the radio spectrum noise floor to determine several key issues: whether
there is an increasing noise problem; the scope and quantitative evidence of
such problems; and how a noise study should be performed.
This is not a broadcast-specific initiative but we at Radio World are
betting that radio broadcasters are going to speak up, based on all the
comments about noise floor problems in the recent FCC AM revitalization
proceeding. The Society of Broadcast Engineers pleaded recently with the FCC to launch an interference management plan for the AM band. And noise concerns are not limited to the AM band either (read a
2009 article for just one example of past discussion about these issues).
A notice of inquiry released by the commission’s Office of
Engineering and Technology on June 15 opens the door for anyone involved in broadcast,
public communications, amateur radio or the telecom industries to provide
documented evidence of noise interference concerns.
The council is seeking comments and answers to questions about radio
spectrum noise, a move that is being seen by the industry as a welcome first step.
Among those calling attention to the initiative is Tom
King, president/CEO of equipment manufacturer Kintronic Labs, who has been an active voice on AM
“I cannot emphasize too strongly
the opportunity that this NOI presents to AM, FM and TV broadcasters to submit
to the FCC TAC well-documented measurements of noise interference that is
adversely impacting the reception of their broadcast services,” said King.
“The TAC will be using the response to this NOI to help define
realizable goals for the new Spectral Noise Study Group within the TAC to
pursue, and ultimately to lead to recommendations for possible changes in the
Part 15 rules as well as enhanced regulatory action that will be presented to
the FCC chairman.”
The TAC is an advisory group to the
FCC operating under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Specifically, this Noise
Floor Technical Inquiry will ask for public input on spectrum noise floor —
particularly unwanted radio frequency energy from man-made sources — and how
those noises have evolved over the past 20 years.
veteran engineering observer said it’s about time. “It looks like there might
be a small glimmer of hope that the commission is taking the issue of radio
noise seriously,” said Steve Johnston, director of engineering and operations for
Wisconsin Public Radio, who has talked publicly about how noise affects the FM dial as well.
The commission said that
although the correlation has been made between rising noise floor in the radio
spectrum and the growing number of devices that emit radio energy, the
commission has found limited available quantitative data to support the
As a result, the council will look at number
of noise categories including incidental radiators, which are defined as
devices like electric motors, light dimmers and power lines; unintentional
radiators, such as computers, portable electronic devices and hig-efficiency
lights; licensed / unlicensed intentional radiators, which are those devices
designed to generate and emit RF energy by radiation or induction like cellular
phones, wireless routers and Bluetooth devices; and ISM radiators, which
include industrial, scientific and medical radiators like microwave ovens and
The council is hoping to get a
host of questions answered as part of the inquiry, including the extent of the
problem during daylight hours versus during the night, how noise can be
distinguished from signals, and how a proper noise study should be performed.
King suggested that stations with Potomac Instruments FIM Series
field intensity meters for use in the AM, FM or TV bands consider conducting
measurements of known RF emission sources in the respective bands to quantify
the level of noise being contributed. “[That’s] one example of measured data
that can be submitted in response to this NOI,” he said.
Comments are being accepted through Aug. 11, 2016, using the commission’s
Electronic Comment Filing System website, which sports a newly streamlined
look. File comments under docket number 16-191.
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