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FCC Advances FM HD Power Proposal

NAB and Xperi have argued that the current formula is too conservative

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the National Association of Broadcasters. 

A rule change that would allow more U.S. FM stations to increase HD Radio power is closer to reality.

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking that we told you about earlier, doing so a couple of days before its August monthly meeting. The action does not give final approval of the changes but indicates tentative approval and asks for public comment.

“Broadcasters and consumers increasingly prefer digital FM radio because it delivers better sound quality than traditional analog FM service,” the commission stated in its announcement.

“Currently, over 2,000 FM stations broadcast digitally, providing listeners with enhanced sound quality, song information and other data through their FM broadcast radio signals. The NPRM seeks comment on two proposals and asks whether these changes will benefit the public or impact existing FM services.”

The NPRM proposes to change the way an FM station can determine its maximum permissible digital power level; it would expand the number of stations that can broadcast at higher digital power levels. The FCC originally authorized FM stations to operate with digital ERP equal to 1 percent of analog power or –20 dBc. In 2010 it allowed stations to operate at –14 dBc but to allow certain stations that meet guidelines to increase to –10 dBc, or 10 percent of analog power.

The NPRM also proposes to allow FM stations to operate their digital sidebands at different power levels in order to give them greater flexibility to maximize power while avoiding interference.

“These proposed actions would offer more efficient FM digital operation, increase digital signal coverage and provide a more robust digital signal for reception inside buildings,” the commission wrote.

The National Association of Broadcasters and Xperi, the parent of HD Radio, were the source of the request that the FCC use a new formula to determine which stations can use the highest allowable HD Radio FM power levels. Many broadcasters have expressed support for the change.

In response to the FCC’s adoption of the NPRM, NAB Senior Vice President of Communications Alex Siciliano issued the following statement:

“NAB applauds the FCC’s initiation of a proceeding to consider proposals to improve FM digital radio service. The proposals, initially submitted by NAB and other radio stakeholders, will allow FM stations to increase digital broadcast power to improve coverage and service for listeners, including audiences inside buildings. The proposed rule changes will also enable broadcasters to target power increases to minimize the impact on neighboring stations. NAB supports the FCC’s preliminary conclusion that adopting these rule changes will enhance digital FM radio service, and we look forward to working with the FCC on formal adoption of the proposals.”

That proposal was combined with a petition from NAB, Xperi and NPR that would permanently authorize FM stations to use HD Radio with asymmetric sideband power levels without the need for separate or experimental authorization.

More info about these proposals, including discussion of opposition from Press Communications, is included in our previous story. Comments should be filed via the FCC’s online comment system, referring to MB Docket No. 22-405.

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