FCC Announces FNPRM and NOI Regarding Digital Audio Broadcasting

April 15, 2004. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced, but did not release, a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding digital audio broadcasting (DAB).

The FCC issued a short release [PDF] describing the item, and Commissioners Powell, Copps and Adelstein issued their own statements.

Michael PowellFCC Chairman Michael Powell (at right) wrote in a separate statement [PDF] that "Today's item represents broadcast radio's version of the digital migration. Like the transition from analog to digital television, the conversion to digital radio will bring exciting new services and choices to the American people. As the digital audio conversion continues, consumers will have the ability to hear surround sound, CD-quality music over the air and will have access to new radio services, such as multi-casting, data services and subscription based services."

The FCC release states that the FCC seeks comment on "what changes and amendments to the FCC's technical rules are necessary to further the introduction of DAB. Specifically, comment is sought on proposals to allow AM nighttime digital service. The FNPRM also asks questions concerning DAB's affect on FM translators. Questions regarding interference are also raised for comment."

The FCC release also states that the FCC seeks comment on "the types of digital services the FCC should permit radio stations to offer. Specifically, should a radio station be allowed to offer a high definition service, a multiplexed service, a datacasting service, or a combination of all of these possibilities? Comment is also sought on whether a radio station should be permitted to offer subscription services." This item also addresses public interest obligations.

Content Protection for Copyrighted Works. The FCC release states briefly that the subject of "digital audio content control" is raised in the NOI.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) opposed addressing this issue in an NPRM. See for example, April 9, 2004 notice [2 pages in PDF] of ex parte meeting.

Similarly, the Consumers Union and Public Knowledge wrote a joint letter [PDF] to the FCC on April 7 in which they stated that "We also understand that this NOI/NPRM will center on proposals advocated by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that, while nominally concerned with distribution over the Internet, in fact will seek broader restrictions on digital copying and storage of content. In essence, we understand, the RIAA is seeking a ``radio equivalent of the broadcast flag´´ designed to prevent consumer recording of broadcasts. Public Knowledge and Consumers Union urge that the Commission avoid a rush to judgment in this matter, and that the Commission consider the question of mandatory content protection for digital radio in a Notice of Inquiry rather than in an NPRM, if at all."

The comments submitted in this proceeding that published in the FCC web site do not include any comments (or letter, notices of ex parte communications, or other items) from the RIAA.

Michael Petricone of the CEA stated in a release after the FCC's public meeting on April 15 "We are pleased the FCC wisely decided today to restrict discussion of digital radio copy protection to a Notice of Inquiry". He added that the RIAA , and that has entered this debate at the eleventh hour -- the standard setting process for digital radio has been underway for over a decade -- seeking a government mandate precluding, limiting, or charging for the private, noncommercial home recording of digital radio programs."

Mike Godwin of Public Knowledge stated in a release that "The RIAA has boldly declared that a radio flag would result in a ``buy button´´ on every radio, which consumers would have to use every time they want to record a song. This notion is completely at odds with the well-established rights of Americans to use digital media, and to enjoy broadcast radio content. These rights include those established in the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which preserved the ability of consumers to make copies for personal use whether from a recorded product or 'from a transmission.' We hope and believe that the Commission will conclude that a radio flag is neither necessary nor lawful."

See also, statement [PDF] by Commission Michael Copps, and statement [PDF] by Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

This item is FCC 04-99 in MB Docket No. 99-325. The FCC release states that the deadline for comments is June 16, 2004, and that the deadline for reply comments is July 16, 2004. For more information, contact Ben Golant at 202 418-7111 or bgolant@fcc.gov.