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DAB Update: More On FCC’s Plate

Washington — The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) voted to consider still another digital audio broadcasting (DAB) issue: adoption of a proposed transmission and modulation scheme as the nation’s standard for terrestrial digital radio.

The proposed standard, NRSC-5, would codify iBiquity’s in-band on-channel (IBOC) transmission and modulation technology, dubbed HD Radio and in use by select radio stations on an FCC-approved interim basis. NRSC-5 was approved by the DAB subcommittee of the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) and forwarded in mid-May to the FCC for adoption. The FCC, in turn, asked for public comments by July 18 and set August 17 as the day for replies to those comments.

The NRSC is a joint committee of the Consumer Electronics Association and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

The commission also has other DAB issues outstanding as part of a formal rule-making process undertaken last summer. iBiquity’s general counsel Albert Shuldiner said he believes a formal FCC ruling on these issues is “near” but declined to be specific. The FCC, he said, hasn’t indicated when it would issue a final ruling.

The public comment period for these issues was completed last summer, and the lack of a ruling could be attributable to the FCC’s focus on other major issues and on completing the transition to a new chairman, he noted.

The issues yet to be decided include the finalization of technical rules under which digital stations have been operating under temporary authority. The rulemaking also includes other policy choices issues, such as whether digital stations will be allowed to multicast multiple lower-quality streams rather than a single high-definition stream, offer subscription services, deliver traffic data that can be ported to in-car navigation systems, and provide interactive features.

Other issues include the protection of existing sub-carrier services, such as reading services for the visually impaired.

Industry and public-interest groups have been “extremely supportive” of such proposals as multicasting, datacasting and other new services, Shuldiner said.

Another decision will be whether to authorize digital AM broadcasting at night, as recommended by the NAB based on tests by iBiquity. The FCC had withheld interim authority for AM stations to broadcast at night in digital until tests were conducted of nighttime first-adjacent-channel interference levels between local stations and distant clear-channel stations.

The nighttime digital-AM issue generated the most controversy, Shuldiner said, but even then, “the majority say the benefits dramatically outweigh the potential for nighttime interference.”

The FCC hasn’t indicated whether it plans a separate vote on NRSC-5 or plans to roll that decision into one umbrella vote that includes nighttime broadcasting, multicasting and digital services and the like, Shuldiner said.

A separate copy-protection issue likely won’t be included in this round of voting, Shuldiner noted. Last year, the FCC launched an inquiry into music-industry demands to require a copy-control broadcast flag in digitally transmitted AM and FM broadcasts. “It’s unusual to adopt a final rule based on a notice of inquiry,” Shuldiner explained. Final rules usually follow a notice of proposed rulemaking, he said. In addition, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC had no jurisdiction in mandating a broadcast flag technology for over-the-air DTV transmission.