Friday, December 15, 2006

Digital radio in Canada

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission has revised its policy on digital radio.

(Click here to see the original document)

In 1995, an initial policy was established. Spectrum at L-band (1452-1492MHz) was assigned. Digital Radio Broadcasting (DRB) was established primarily as a replacement service for existing analog AM & FM stations - but provisions were made for authorizing new digital-only stations as well. The first license was issued in 1998. Since then, 57 commercial DRB stations and 18 CBC stations have been authorized. The 76th authorized DRB station, in Toronto, is a digital-only ethnic outlet.

The Commission is very concerned about the stalled DRB transition. Roughly 15 of the 76 authorized stations (including the digital-only operation in Toronto) are not on the air. Some stations that once operated have since ceased operations. Few recievers have been sold, and there is no interest in expanding DRB service beyond the six cities where it exists. Since DRB transmitters have only been built in the largest cities, motorists travelling between Quebec and Windsor, between Calgary and Edmonton, or between Vancouver and south-central British Columbia lose DRB reception. As a result, automakers have switched their support from terrestrial DRB to XM/Sirius satellite radio.

The Commission asked:

- How can radio best transition from analog to digital, and how can the Commission help?
- Should the Commission cease to consider DRB as a replacement technology?
- Should new digital-only stations be encouraged?
- Should other technologies besides Eureka 147 be considered?
(IBOC, DRM, DMB, DVB-H)
- If we give up on DRB, what should be done with the spectrum?

A number of parties commented. Three mentioned IBOC:

- iBiquity claimed that "...the technology is compatible with the current broadcast infrastructure and therefore enables the reuse of frequency spectrum as well as some of the existing equipment." They also claimed their system provides other public benefits through multicasting.

- The Ontario Independent Radio Group "...recommended that Canadian stations wishing to adopt IBOC technology should be able to do so without a prolonged regulatory process..."

- The only comprehensive technical comments came from the CBC. They stated that AM-IBOC "...would create a serious degradation in sound quality for existing AM stations." (*all* AM stations, not just the ones adopting IBOC) They also state that due to interference concerns, "...IBOC transmission at night is not practical." As for FM-IBOC, implementation "...would require additional first and second adjacent channel coordination." and "...would make it difficult to coordinate the CBC's network operations." (presumably, they'd have trouble finding FM spectrum for expansion of Radio Two and the French-language services)

The Commission concurs with the CBC: "...digital IBOC signals will add a certain amount of noise to a station's analog signal, marginally reducing its effective service area." and "...IBOC signals can degrade the service areas of technically related stations located in the same or adjacent markets." (both of these premises have been presented by DXers in the U.S. and are generally denied by IBOC supporters. It is interesting to see them accepted, on the record, by the Canadian regulatory authorities.)

The Commission says it's up to the station to decide whether any IBOC self-interference is enough to discourage adoption.

However, they do not accept interference to other stations. "...the Commission has concluded that, if the aforementioned issues can be addressed, particularly any potential interference to other stations, the use of IBOC technology,... could be considered for licensing."

To a large degree the decision of whether to authorize IBOC is not the Commission's - it lies with the Department of Communications. The Commission says "...if the Department authorized IBOC technology for the AM and/or FM bands under the Radiocommunication Act, the Commission would be prepared to authorize services..."

The Commission has announced it will hold a round table in six months, with the CEOs of the major radio groups, to discuss further plans for DRB implementation.

1 comment:

Robert Grant said...

They probably should (if they can under NAFTA) mandate that all XM or Sirius receivers receive Canada's own terrestrial DR stations as well (since the technology is already similar).
Also let stations use DR to expand their coverage.
How did Canada make such a dael, anyway? USA can satellite to Canada, but Canada cannot satellite even to Canada itself, much less the USA!

Rob