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Ibiquity: No Fees for Translators

Ibiquity Digital Corp. has clarified some aspects of the licensing fees it plans to charge broadcasters for its in-band, on-channel digital audio broadcasting technology.

WASHINGTON Ibiquity Digital Corp. has clarified some aspects of the licensing fees it plans to charge broadcasters for its in-band, on-channel digital audio broadcasting technology.

Company President/CEO Robert Struble told attendees at the Public Radio Conference in May that FM translators and boosters, commercial and noncom alike, would be exempt from IBOC licensing fees.

Roughly 3,650 FM translators were licensed to operate in the United States as of May, according to the FCC.

FM translators rebroadcast the signal of a primary FM station on a different frequency, typically to fill in coverage. Boosters essentially are translators operating on the same frequency as the main FM station.

Radio World also asked Ibiquity about the status of fee negotiations with major broadcast groups. Struble declined comment, saying the discussions were proprietary.

Cheapie fee

Clarifying its intended fee policies, an Ibiquity spokesman said a station’s IBOC license fee would be transferable to a new owner. This stipulation, and the fact fees will not apply to translators and boosters, are new information.

Ibiquity bases part of its fee structure on the FCC’s annual regulatory fees, which noncommercial stations do not pay. Ibiquity said the one-time licensing fee for public radio stations would be $3,750, reached by multiplying the lowest commercial FCC regulatory fee ($250) by Ibiquity’s standard multiple of 15.

One PRC attendee expressed outrage that Ibiquity will charge noncoms any license fee at all in addition to seeking a percentage of the profits from a station’s data services. The attendee asked whether the FCC would look into it.

Struble said, “If we don’t get fees, we won’t be a viable business,” and radio would not have a digital path anytime soon.

Keith Larson, chief engineer of the FCC’s Media Bureau, said any commission position on fees would be premature.

“That issue hasn’t surfaced because we have yet to pick an approach,” he said.

As of late May, the agency had yet to endorse IBOC as a digital standard for America’s terrestrial radio. Ibiquity hopes the commission will endorse IBOC by September to give receiver manufacturers certainty about the technology.

Another attendee asked if using TV Channel 6 to alleviate overcrowding on the FM band as stations transition to IBOC – or using that spectrum for analog expansion instead of going digital at all – was still a possibility. This was one of several alternative-spectrum proposals raised in the DAB Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 1999.

Larson said TV’s transition extends to the end of 2006 and that radio wants to go digital sooner, so the Channel 6 spectrum would not be available in time. Struble said radio might also be required to pay for any new spectrum.

Alternative programming

NPR is pursing a second audio channel for stations using IBOC, said Don Lockett, NPR’s vice president and chief technology officer.

Some public stations would like to program differently for the digital signal during the transition period in which stations transmit both analog and digital signals. NPR has stated this in comments to the FCC and has discussed it with Ibiquity.

While it would be feasible to use a station’s spectrum allocation for two talk channels, said Struble, Ibiquty does not recommend it. One of IBOC’s selling points is a blend-to-analog feature, used to avoid a digital drop-off in some interference circumstances, and this requires the same programming on the analog and digital services.

Members of NPR’s Digital Transition Advisory Committee are working out the specifics of paying for the digital transition, including funding priorities. Lockett said that of the 135 FM NPR member stations that had filled out Ibiquity’s early-adopter equipment forms, the total estimated conversion cost is $14 million.

Omitting stations that need dual antennas, the average conversion cost for these FMs is approximately $107,000, he said. For the nine AMs that had filled out the forms, the total conversion estimate was $900,000, for an average of about $110,000 per AM.

Mark Handley, president and GM of WEVO(FM), Concord, New Hampshire Public Radio, said the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was able to secure $21 million in 2001 and $25 million in 2002 for digital conversion costs. He told attendees radio would be competing with public TV for that money.

“You’d better think about other sources of funding,” Handley said.

Nighttime tests

Meanwhile, Ibiquity is preparing for additional nighttime tests of its AM system.

The company has applied for new experimental stations in Warren, N.J. (50 watts on 1700 kHz) and in Frederick, Md. (4 kW on 650 kHz) for additional system testing.

The idea is to use experimental stations near its two headquarters to debug software before deploying the technology on real stations, a spokesman said.

In May, Ibiquity still was working to identify specific stations for AM nighttime testing. It wants to test clear-channel stations using skywaves – tests the standards-setting National Radio Systems Committee had not previously required.

Also last month, additional SCA receiver tests conducted by Ibiquity were completed. The trade association representing radio reading services, the International Association of Audio Information Services, was reviewing the results. All parties had agreed that previous SCA tests were inconclusive.

Struble said the new SCA test results showed no meaningful impact on either the host or surrounding stations.

Ibiquity Vice President and General Counsel Al Shuldiner said Ibiquity conducted mapping exercises for approximately18 stations that inject radio reading service signals onto their FM subcarriers.

These tests focused on the performance of SCA receivers under a number of scenarios: the default case involving no adjacent-channel signals, establishing SCA receiver performance with no IBOC, then with IBOC on the host FM channel; a second scenario, again without adjacent channels but this time with simulated multipath interference; and finally, a scenario in the presence of analog and IBOC adjacent channels (upper and lower single first-adjacent, and upper and lower single second-adjacent channel cases were tested).

The tests showed between about 2 to 3 percent of a population within a station’s coverage area would be affected by some interference to the subcarrier. Not all of those listeners would be radio reading service subscribers, he said; only a fraction of that affected population uses a subcarrier service.

NPR said the results showed no impact on the 67 kHz and 92 kHz subcarriers, nor first-adjacent-channel interference, although there was some second-adjacent-channel interference. Results were submitted to the FCC in the DAB rulemaking Docket 99-325.