Lost in Translation

Greg Smith found a post on the Broadcast Law blog, mentioned Sunday, that defines the rules the FCC has promulgated for the use of translators to rebroadcast HD channels over analog — opening up the chance for some return on investment (ROI) of IBOC — as what was once termed a “regulatory agency” plays slut for the industry it once monitored:

In a recent decision, the FCC made clear that analog FM translators can rebroadcast the signal of a HD digital multicast channel from a commonly owned FM station.  For months, broadcasters have been introducing “new” FM stations to their communities via translators rebroadcasting HD-2 signals which are broadcast digitally on a primary FM station, and available only to those who have purchased HD radio receivers.  In the decision that was just released, the Commission’s staff rejected an objection to the use of an FM translator taking a signal that can only be heard on a digital HD Radio and turning it into an analog signal capable of being received on any FM receiver.  In this case, the broadcaster rebroadcast his AM station on the FM HD station so that it could then be rebroadcast on the FM translator.  But, even if the HD multicast channel was a totally independent station that could otherwise only be heard on an HD digital radio, it could be rebroadcast on the FM translator and received by anyone with an FM radio in the limited area served by the translator station.

The Commission did make clear, however, that a broadcaster cannot use another station owner’s HD multicast channel and rebroadcast that on a translator if the broadcaster already owned the maximum number of stations allowed by the multiple ownership rules.  In other words, if a broadcaster is allowed by the multiple ownership rules to own 4 FM stations in a market, it could put a fifth (low power) FM signal in that market through the use of an FM translator rebroadcasting one of its own HD multicast signals.  However, if it had not itself converted its FM stations to digital so that it had its own multicast abilities, it could not do a time brokerage agreement and program the multicast signal of another broadcaster in town who had installed the digital equipment needed to do such multicasts.

As “Savage” points out in the Radio-Info.com discussion board mentioned earlier:

The problem is that the HD-2 analog translators are permitting large groups to evade ownership caps; the issue isn’t maximization of spectrum use…. The translators are being used as competitive flankers in many instances to freeze out smaller broadcasters and import automated corporate-developed formats. That’s contrary to the intent behind the rules. You will note that the big HD-2 translator stories these days involve major radio groups in major markets.

The ownership caps were put in place through arduous jockeying involving the Commission, the Justice Department, broadcast and community groups to preserve diversity of radio ownership and voices. The translator trick is an end-run around the rules. And it bestows special advantages on HD operators which have nothing to do with HD operation.

IOW: dishonesty from the HD contingent. More of the usual.

So the FCC, in a move essentially covering its own arse (having sold the farm to IBOC, with embarrassing results), has little to say to the public weal — aside from, maybe, “Hey, sailor.”

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One Response

  1. […] It’s bad enough that major broadcasters are wasting spectrum through the implementation of HD Radio. But purchasing or leasing the use of translators to expand a conglomerate’s holdings in a market where they already own the maximum number of full-power stations allows them to effectively flout the FCC’s local radio station ownership caps. […]

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