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IBiquity Urges FCC to Okay All-Digital AM Broadcasting

The commission should not require stations implementing MDCL to reduce their digital power

IBiquity Digital supports many of the commission’s proposals to help AM in theory, but says the agency should ensure any changes to the AM technical rules do not negatively impact the HD Radio rollout.

In comments filed with the FCC on AM revitalization, the company says its HD Radio technology has offered AM and FM broadcasters the first major technical upgrade to their service in many decades.

The company notes that it spent “hundreds of millions” of dollars in the development and commercialization of HD Radio technology, and a “significant” portion of those funds were devoted to upgrading AM. “For AM, HD Radio technology has allowed broadcasters to dramatically upgrade their audio quality to a level comparable to analog FM, thereby allowing broadcasters to offer stereo sound and reintroduce music programming on AM,” says the company in its filing.

Some 340 AM and 1,890 FM stations had licenses to operate digitally using HD Radio technology, as of the end of 2013.

Commenting on the commission’s suggestions specifically, iBiquity notes the agency proposes to reduce the daytime community coverage standards and to eliminate the nighttime coverage requirement for existing AM stations. IBiquity agrees that relaxation of the existing rules in these areas may provide greater flexibility for AM stations to move their antennas in order to reduce interference, obtain less expensive facilities and better serve changing population patterns. As a result, iBiquity generally supports these commission proposals, however the tech developer is concerned that stations that move their antennas may inadvertently change the potential for interference from existing or future digital broadcasts. While antenna moves may solve immediate analog constraints, they may complicate future digital conversions, according to iBiquity.

Any stations implementing antenna modifications should be required to accept any new digital interference they receive as a result of the modifications, says the tech developer. “Similarly, stations that implement antenna modifications under the proposed rule changes should not be allowed to increase their analog interference to adjacent or co-channel digital broadcasts.” IBiquity says it’s not proposing that stations be required to accept all interference. Rather, the tech developer believes antenna moves “that create new interference problems should not be recognized by the commission as a valid basis for complaints against HD Radio broadcasters.”

On the suggestion to allow stations to more broadly adopt the energy-saving MDCL technologies without prior commission authorization or notification, iBiquity supports the concept, yet does not believe that HD Radio stations broadcasting in the hybrid mode should be required to implement pro rata reductions of their digital signal. Also, the commission should not require stations implementing MDCL to reduce their digital power, iBiquity says.

Finally, iBiquity, like Clear Channel, believes the FCC should authorize AMs to convert to all-digital broadcasting, saying it offers the best long-term solution “to the problems that have caused listeners to turn to alternative forms of programming and entertainment.” All-digital broadcasting, says iBiquity, provides a “dramatic audio quality upgrade” to analog AM. The all-digital AM system also increases the power levels of the OFDM carriers, which enhances the range of the digital signal and reduces susceptibility to power line interference, according to the tech developer. Multicasting and datacasting services are also possible with the all-digital AM system, notes the company.

“There are analog AM stations today that have few existing listeners but cannot convert to digital due to interference constraints. If these stations were allowed to convert to all-digital operations, they could enjoy the upgrade in audio quality digital can offer and develop a more commercially viable path to success,” writes iBiquity.

Watch our page for summaries of other comments to the FCC NPRM.