Friday, February 12, 2010

Navigating Convergence: Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications

IBOC isn't getting a rousing endorsement north of the border...

Broadcast digital radio
Although broadcast digital radio was generally considered to have a key role in alleviating spectrum scarcity in major markets, the L-band DAB and IBOC technologies have been slow to evolve in Canada, to the extent that there is considerable doubt as to whether they will have a role to play in shaping Canada’s future radio landscape.

L-band DAB
Industry Canada and the Commission proposed L-band DAB, defined as 1452-1492 MHz, as a replacement technology in the mid-90s, believing that AM and FM radio stations would voluntarily migrate to L-band to take advantage of the superior sound quality associated with the technology.
The Commission licensed digital radio services (79 authorized, 44 on-air as of June 2007) using L-band DAB, based on the Eureka-147 standard. However, widespread migration to the L-band has not materialized as planned. From a consumer standpoint, L-band also has several drawbacks, including the lack of original services and the limited availability and cost of receivers on the market.
Furthermore, the U.S. did not follow Canada’s lead and in October of 2002, the FCC adopted IBOC instead of L-band DAB as the digital radio standard. Also, in a May 2007 letter to the Commission, Industry Canada announced that it had stopped issuing broadcasting certificates for L-band transmitters and is awaiting the results of a future policy review to determine the future of the L-band in Canada. This has led to considerable doubt about the future prospects of L-band in Canada.

While a number of radio stations (1,750 out of 13,000 AM/FM stations) in the U.S. are operating IBOC transmitters, sales of receivers remain sluggish. Further, AM IBOC rollout has essentially stopped in the U.S. in 2008 due to interference issues.
For its part, the Commission, through its digital radio policy (Broadcasting Public Notice 2006- 160),89 stated that it would be prepared to authorize services using the IBOC technology. Industry Canada is preparing rules and regulations for the operation of IBOC which could include an amendment to FM Broadcasting Procedures and Rules (BPR-3). It is not actively looking at AM IBOC.
However, where the Canadian market is concerned, IBOC is at a very nascent stage and an eventual large-scale deployment in the Canadian market remains highly uncertain.