The final element of a radio spectrum “land rush” that began more than a decade ago involving FM translator stations is upon us.
Translators exploded onto the scene as a way for broadcasters to gain new FM signals on the cheap back in 2003, when some clever religious broadcasters flooded a filing window which resulted in the tendering of thousands of translator-station construction permits. These folks inspired other spectrum-spectulators to jump in, sensing that this would be the last chance to colonize the FM dial in the United States. They all then sold the majority of these permits, for thousands to millions of dollars apiece.
These translators have been mostly utilized to give HD Radio-only programming (like that found on FM HD-2 and -3 subchannels) an analog presence, which some have likened to launching an entirely new station, and to allow AM stations a foothold on the FM dial. Since that first rush, the FCC’s opened multiple opportunities for broadcasters to purchase existing translator stations, most recently as part of FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s vaunted AM revitalization initiative. Continue reading “Last Bites of Translator Feast At Hand”
It’s still more than two months away, but in late November Americans will sit down with their families/friends and gorge themselves on food, then satedly lounge around giving thanks for their bounty. The U.S. radio industry’s going through that process presently, having spent most of the year scarfing up and then trading around FM translator stations.
In quick summary: FM translators are a class of radio station limited to a broadcast power of 250 watts but unlimited in antenna height (the key factor for good FM coverage). They are considered secondary services, in that they must rebroadcast another radio station. For decades, translators have been used as stand-in broadcast nodes by interests who wanted to build out radio networks on the cheap — by and large, these have been religious and public broadcasters who pipe in programming via satellite to air on a translator. Translators don’t require any staff and since they don’t originate their own programming all they need is a shack for the RF-boxes and a tower nearby.
This all began to change last decade when, after a multi-year freeze on new translator stations in order to implement the LPFM radio service, the FCC opened a filing window for new translators in 2003. Several cunning parties were well-prepared for this opportunity, flooding the agency with tens of thousands of translator applications — a 250-watt FM spectrum gold rush. Out of these came thousands of new translator stations, which in the intervening years have been fodder for speculative development of the FM dial around the country. Continue reading “Thanks to Translator-Mongering, AM Broadcasters Now Openly Advocating Band's Abandonment”
On Friday, the FCC opened a six-month filing window for AM broadcasters to acquire existing FM translators, and move them up to 250 miles into their local coverage areas. This is part of the agency’s AM revitalization initiative — though it’s still not exactly clear how FM spectrum fixes AM’s fundamental difficulties.
This window is exclusive to lower-power AM broadcasters; the large “flamethrower” stations will get a crack at the translator shuffle later this summer, and then the FCC plans to open an application window for new translator stations next year. The marketplace for translators, which has been simmering mightily underground for nearly a decade, has fully burst into the mainstream with the FCC’s blessing. Continue reading “Window Brings Surge of Translator Deals”
An interesting trial-balloon was floated last month in Radio World. In it, John Kean, one of the founding employees of NPR Labs (who was let go in a reshuffle this past August) suggested that the FCC’s spectrum allocation rules be revised to better “protect” FM-HD Radio sideband signals.
Before going any further, it’s best to cover some history. HD Radio was adopted by the FCC in 2000 primarily on the premise that the system used “no new spectrum.” In fact, FM-HD signals double the spectral footprint of FM stations — but HD’s proponents got around this by appropriating fallow spectrum the FCC leaves between stations as the stations’ own allocation. Continue reading “HD Proponents Seek Protection for "No New Spectrum"”
At the close of business last Friday, and with little fanfare, the FCC released its first AM revitalization Report and Order. This rulemaking began two years ago and the most significant outcomes have little to do with the AM band itself.
Comparing the FCC’s proposed rulemaking to the R&O shows that most of the agency’s initial proposals will be enacted. This includes things like allowing for more flexbility on interference calculations and protections, antenna siting and design, the option to use analog transmission protocols that are more energy-efficent, and increased utilization of AM’s expanded band channels. But the meat of the R&O involvews developments regarding the FM band and the utter lack of comment on a digital strategy for AM. Continue reading “AM Revitalization Order Released”
Earlier this spring the FCC announced the creation of what it calls the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) — a swath of spectrum between 3.5-3.7 GHz that will be opened to both licensed and unlicensed services. This spectrum has traditionally been reserved for military radar and satellite uplinks; now it may become a sandbox for dynamic use of the public airwaves.
This particular slice of spectrum falls between two established Wi-Fi allocations, so one obvious potential use is for the provision of last-mile (or last-foot) broadband access. Incumbent users (the Navy and satellite ground stations) will remain on the band, but they’re so geographically sparse that for all intents and purposes this spectrum has been fallow in the majority of the United States. Under CBRS, instead of licensing devices to work on a particular channel within a band, they will be effectively permitted to use the entire band. The devices themselves will be programmed to sniff the local airwaves to find and utilize non-congested channels in its immediate area. Google is developing a database of CBRS users and devices that will be updated in real-time based on operating feedback from the devices themselves — the Internet of Things coming to life. Continue reading “CBRS: A Foray Into Spectrum Sharing”
All hail Michael Marcus: one of the policy-fathers of wi-fi and Bluetooth (and a man with unimpeachable FCC bona-fides) has released a compendium of documents regarding plans for the FCC’s radical shrinking of its Enforcement Bureau.
The cache has three parts: a letter from FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to Greg Walden (R-OR), a member of the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce; a memorandum to FCC field staff from Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc and FCC Managing Director Jon Wilkins; and a PowerPoint slide summary of the outside consultant’s work, conducted by Oceaneast Associates and Censeo Consulting Group.
Here’s what it tells us: Continue reading “Document-Dump Details FCC Enforcement Cutbacks”
On the heels of some Congressional inquiry into the the FCC’s plan to radically cut its field enforcement resources, the National Association of Broadcasters finally chimed in. In a post titled “Defanging a Paper Tiger” (hm, where have I heard that term before?), NAB VP of Spectrum Policy Bob Weller gave the idea two big thumbs down.
Weller, who joined NAB last year after several years with the FCC working spectrum policy/enforcement issues, says the new proposal effectively undoes a service-cushion implemented by the agency when it last downsized its enforcement resources some 20 years ago: Continue reading “Reactions to FCC Enforcement Downsizing”
This appears to be a first: British broadcast regulator Ofcom is floating the idea of using FM radio spectrum to provide wireless broadband access in rural areas.
The United Kingdom is nearly 20 years into an attempted digital radio transition. It (and much of the rest of the developed world) has adopted a digital broadcast technology that uses spectrum outside the AM and FM bands. However, the development of digital radio is as stalled (or worse) in the U.K. at it is in the United States. Continue reading “U.K. to Refarm FM?”
Some interesting tidbits have been published recently that provide a nice point-counterpoint to the way countries are handling the use of spectrum in a digital world.
The U.S. Department of Commerce (the Federal Communications Commission’s parent department) has just established a two-year “Spectrum Advisory Committee” to offer “reforms that expedite the American public’s access to broadband services, public safety services, and long-range spectrum planning.” It would seem that this committee is to further the work of the White House’s Spectrum Policy Initiative, created three and a half years ago, which to-date hasn’t seemed to produce anything of substance.
As in the case of the first initiative, this committee will not report to the FCC, but instead to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which primarily oversees spectrum activities restricted to government use and international spectrum issues. Continue reading “U.S., U.K. Chart Spectrum's Future”