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FCC Begins Arduous Process of Crafting Final IBOC Rules

FCC Begins Arduous Process of Crafting Final IBOC Rules

Terrestrial digital radio proponents have been hoping the FCC would move to solidify final rules for IBOC this year and now that process has moved a big step forward.
However, the FCC isn’t just rolling over and blindly approving service rules for terrestrial digital radio. Commissioners and staffers are asking a lot of questions in their quest to craft further operational rules for in-band, on-channel digital audio broadcasting.
In a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making issued April 15, commissioners noted that IBOC has potential beyond improved sound quality, such as datacasting, multiplexing and subscription services.
The FCC is seeking industry comment on these and other possibilities for IBOC. The comments are due June 16.
But in this election year, an issue of interest in the regulatory arena has been raised for digital radio: public service obligations.
Commissioners noted that along with new data services such as station, song and artist identification, stock and news information, as well as local traffic and weather bulletins. With IBOC, a radio station is also capable of splitting its digital channel so that it may broadcast multiple streams of digital audio programming.
The commission seeks comment on what changes it needs to make to its technical rules to further radio’s digital transition, especially regarding proposals to allow AM nighttime service. The FCC wants to hear about digital’s possible effects on FM translators, including services such as reading services for the blind and visually impaired.
Questions regarding all types of interference are also raised for comment.
The commission asks in the notice what kind of digital services stations should be allowed to offer, such as multiplexing and datacasting and whether subscription services have a place in terrestrial digital radio offerings.
Commissioner Michael Copps believes the multicasting issue, the split channel concept for FM radio, raises questions regarding ownership rules. While the extra channels offer the promise of more diversity of programming in the marketplace, suddenly having effectively more stations on the air could change the competitive landscape in local markets, he said.