ZoneCasting Prepares Further Field Trials, Eyes Official Launch

Radio World reports that GeoBroadcast Solutions, the company behind “ZoneCasting” technology, will commence long-term field trials on a station in southeast Florida this fall and is preparing for a “commercial launch” as of now left undefined.
[For those just tuning in, ZoneCasting uses FM booster stations to break up a full-power station’s primary coverage area into “zones,” each one covered by its own booster. This allows the parent station to program each zone separately, offering geo-targeted advertisements, news, community information, and emergency messages.]
Although the latest report reads like cobbled-together press releases, there are a couple of interesting observations. The first is that the ZoneCasting system is compatible with both analog and digital FM broadcasts. This is interesting because proponents of HD Radio have been pushing the use of single-frequency booster stations as a way to improve the robustness of FM-HD signals.
The FCC has not put this proposal on a fast track, but if it can be convinced that the deployment of boosters might tackle two issues instead of one (improving FM-HD reception while allowing stations to entice more advertisers through geo-targeted broadcasts) perhaps the idea will gain some regulatory traction. After all, at today’s FCC the only metrics that really count are economic.
The second is that trade press coverage of ZoneCasting leaves one with the impression that this technology is desired by the industry as a whole. ZoneCasting’s existence hinges on convincing the FCC to modify its FM booster rules to allow such stations to originate programming. GeoBroadcast Solutions filed a Petition for Rulemaking asking for this change in April.
RW’s latest story closes with quotes from three parties who filed comments in support of the Petition, but it doesn’t say that those folks constitute a full 25% of the commenters (12 in all), none of whom spoke on behalf of the primary constituents that shape broadcast policy in the United States.
The FCC has pretty much checked out of proactive involvement in policymaking related to radio, especially over the last decade, and has a propensity to make post hoc rule changes – such as those sanctioning HD Radio itself and formalizing the speculative proliferation of FM translators. Thus it may not take much real-world impelementation of ZoneCasting to get regulators to sign off on yet another step toward the bastardization of the FM dial.