Digital radio approved by FCC

The Federal Communications Commission gave its blessing yesterday to a digital radio technology for local broadcasters that promises highly improved sound for consumers and new revenue streams for broadcasters.

The approval was welcome news for Columbia-based iBiquity Digital Radio Corp., which created the technology that allows broadcasters to transmit digital and analog signals simultaneously.


Pending the release of the FCC's order, which could occur as early as today, broadcasters who have ordered and installed the digital equipment could begin broadcasting digitally next week, but iBiquity had planned for broadcasters in six markets to begin using the technology later in the fall.

"This is really the landmark decision we were waiting for," said David Salemi, vice president of marketing for iBiquity. "This allows [broadcasters] to buy [the equipment] and put it on the air without getting any special [FCC] approval."


IBiquity's technology - which it calls high definition, or HD, radio - had been expected to get the FCC's approval because it was supported by some of the largest broadcasters in the nation, manufacturers of broadcast equipment and semiconductors - most of which invest in iBiquity or have agreements with the company - and the National Association of Broadcasters.

With the FCC action, "local radio stations are poised to deliver one of the most sweeping advancements in broadcasting in nearly a century," said NAB President and Chief Executive Officer Edward O. Fritts.

"We believe broadcasters will embrace this new technology because it will provide local listeners with unmatched audio quality and a host of new, innovative digitally based services."

The ruling approved digital broadcasting any time on FM and in the daytime only for AM frequencies. The company is still testing its nighttime capacity for AM. It also established HD radio as the digital standard for broadcasters while the commission works on standards for the new technology.

By allowing broadcasters to transmit digitally, HD radio creates revenue opportunities for broadcasters. With the technology, broadcasters envision consumers being able to receive news or stock quotes across the screen of a radio, traffic broadcasts specific to their commuting routes, or the ability to purchase CDs or concert tickets with the touch of a button with part of the proceeds returning to the station.

"This is an amazing item, and we don't get that many items where it's a win-win for everyone, and it's sort of a no-brainer to support it," said FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.

"It's fabulous new technology," the commissioner continued. "It really positions broadcasters to be in a much stronger competitive position in response to many of the other technologies [on the market].

"There's no downside to this item. You get a better-quality audio signal, you may be able to have multiple audio streams and a much stronger robust economic environment for our licensees."