FCC’s Trumpist Trajectory Intensifies

The rotten hubris that is the Trump administraton is in full bloom at the FCC. It began when its leadership refused to defend core communications principles like free speech and press and flourished when they swore fealty to hypercapitalism and preemptively demonized those who may oppose their policy agenda. Now the dirty tricks have arrived. It’s all so far outside the already-troublesome norm of how media policy is made as to be head-spinning.

Let’s begin with the agency’s effort to repeal network neutrality regulations. An issue that’s overly complicated in most news coverage, the nation turns to John Oliver to make sense of it. He’s done this twice now – most recently in May, and as before his coverage inspired millions to visit the FCC’s public-comment site and make their thoughts known on the issue.

The first time, the public response in favor of net neutrality was so overwhelming that it crashed the FCC’s servers. This time, the system went down again…but the FCC claims that it was due to a malicious attack of unknown origin. According to (now-gone) Chief Information Officer David Bray, as Oliver’s latest segment went to air, “the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos). These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic. . .[they] were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.” Read More

FCC and Pirates: Going Through the Motions Faster

Signifying what the industry trades call a “crackdown” and added “pressure” on unlicensed broadcasters, the FCC’s Enforcment Bureau has stepped up its issuance of warning-letters, primarily to pirate stations in New York and New Jersey. Of the 94 enforcement actions against unlicensed broadcasters this year, 52 of them have taken place in these two states. Enforcement activity also includes two Notices of Apparent Liability and seven Forfeiture Orders, for cases that originated in 2015-16. Overall, however, the pace of enforcement actions is running behind the totals of a year ago.

This is not necessarily an expansion of enforcement duties. NYC-based field agents especially are now doing what they call “follow-up investigations” – in a nutshell, agents now re-visit unlicensed stations they’ve already contacted. If they are still on the air, they issue yet another warning letter to the operator (or, in the case of one New Jersey-based pirate, to the owner of the property where the station is housed, who was not in on the first-round contact). “Follow-up investigations” typically occur within 1-3 months of initial contact with the offending station. But if stations aren’t fazed by the first FCC nastygram they get, what are the odds the second one will change their ways? Read More

Last Bites of Translator Feast At Hand

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. Read More

HD Radio Cracked on Receiver-Side

One of the largest controversies involving the U.S. digital radio standard, HD Radio, has been its proprietary nature. The technology’s owner, iBiquity DTS Tessera Xperi Corporation, has refused to make public all the necessary technical information within the standard, dubbed by the National Radio Systems Committee as NRSC-5; this ostensibly prevents anyone from developing or manufacturing any HD-related transmission or reception technologies without express licensure from Xperi.

The specific “black box” that has kept the technology proprietary has been the algorithm Xperi uses to encode and decode HD audio signals. If you look at the publicly-available NRSC-5 documentation, you find no meaningful detail about this aspect of HD technology beyond a description of how it works.

This was a site of controversy during HD’s tortured development: initially, the standard was to utilize an algorithm derived from publicly-accessible code – but once the FCC gave the standard its blessing, then-developer iBiquity swapped out the codec under which the technology had been tested with a new one that it had ginned up wholly in-house. But it performed so poorly that HD’s proprietors replaced it again with the variant onboard transmitters and receivers today. Read More

LPFM + HD Radio = 💰🔥

Another LPFM station has taken the plunge into the HD Radio space: introducing KVCB-LP, run by the Vacaville (CA) Christian Schools. KVCB is the second LPFM station to be authorized by the FCC to broadcast in HD – the first was WGVV-LP in Rock Island, Illinois, which received FCC authorization for digital broadcasting last decade, though it’s unclear if the station ever deployed it.

KVCB-LP was the brainchild of music teacher and genuine prodigy Ralph Martin, who’s long had the radio-bug: in 1997 he built a network of Part 15 AM transmitters for the students to use, and when the LPFM service was initially authorized in 2000, Martin made all the necessary plans to apply for a license.

Congressional meddling into LPFM – namely, tightening the interference-protection standards on these small stations – meant that Vacaville went from having potential channels available to having none. But Martin bided his time, and when Congress undid many of the restrictions on LPFM earlier this decade and the FCC opened another application-filing window, he was ready. Construction permit in hand, the station went on the air, initially analog-only, in 2014. Read More