by Leslie Stimson
A proposal to allow digital FM stations to increase power — one that reflects industry negotiations and recent compromise among several major broadcast interests — is now in the hands of the Media Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
The goals of the proposal are to improve reception of digital signals significantly, particularly in mobile environments and within buildings, and to match up HD Radio digital coverage areas with stations' analog footprints. More broadly, advocates hope a power hike will help renew the pace of adoption of HD Radio by broadcasters and send a positive sign to automakers and the consumer electronics industry.
The commission is contemplating the compromise crafted by iBiquity Digital and NPR, with input from the so-called Joint Parties, a group of 18 organizations including major broadcasters and transmission manufacturers. The Joint Parties, iBiquity and the National Association of Broadcasters originally asked the FCC for an increase more than a year ago. Observers believe the FCC preferred an industry consensus before acting on a power hike.
The United States has about 9,560 licensed FMs, according to FCC data. As of November, about 1,650 of those were using HD Radio, according to iBiquity Digital, or about 17 percent.
The compromise worked out in November calls for the commission to allow a voluntary 6 dB hike for FM IBOC broadcasters across the board — meaning stations could quadruple their digital power — with provision for increases beyond that, up to a 10 dB increase in certain circumstances, or 10 times as much power. Initial prediction models suggest most stations would be able to exceed 6 dB.