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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Monday, August 11, 2008

HD Radio: Followup

Several months ago I wrote about how HD Radio was missing from the FCC website and speculated that was a factor in the negligible adoption rate of this new technology. Now I see that FCC should generally be neutral on technologies, but it would be nice if they made information available to the public on new communications services that have been authorized.

I visited relatives in Arizona recently and stopped by Fry's Electronics, my favorite electronics store. For those east of the Mississippi , Fry's is the offshoot of a grocery store of the same name that has Walmart-sized stores full of electronics, home appliances, and the junk food that appeals to techno nerds. Their farthest east store is in Texas, a long way from the Beltway.

I heard about HD Radio while living in France. Since I threw away my ancient clock radio when I moved to Europe in 2004, I thought I would buy an HD Radio clock radio when I got back in 2007. Imagine my surprise to find out that such units were very hard to find and cost over $200! So I bought an AM/FM clock radio at Target for about $20. But I have been looking for HD Radio in stores on a low priority basis ever since.

Well, Fry's is the first store I have ever visited with 2 different models, one of which was actually under $200! So NAB may be rejoicing in this support for over the air broadcasting. However, the broadcasters pressured FCC to force XM and Sirius to include HD Radio technology in future XM/Sirius receivers and failed:
Although we find it unnecessary to impose a condition requiring the inclusion of chips for digital audio broadcast (“DAB”) or HD RadioTM in SDARS [e.g. XM & Sirius] receivers,we believe that important have been raised about DAB that warrant further examination in a separate proceeding. As discussed in Section VI.B.4, the Commission commits to initiating a notice of inquiry within 30 days after adoption of this Order to gather additional information on the issue.(Para. 7)


Though we are unpersuaded a case has been presented on this record of a merger-specific harm to HD Radio not remedied by the voluntary commitments and other conditions, we do believe important questions have been raised that warrant further examination in a separate proceeding. To this end, the Commission commits to initiating a notice of inquiry within 30 days from the adoption date of this Order to gather more information onissues including, but not limited to:

-Whether HD Radio chips or any other audio technology should be included in all satellite radio receivers;

-Whether satellite radio capability or any other audio technology should be included in all HD Radio receivers;

-The cost to auto manufacturersof including HD Radio chips;

-The cost to radio manufacturers of including HD Radio chips;

-Consumer demand for HD radio;

-The amount and type of programming available on HD Radio today, and that projected to be available over the next 3 years; and

-Whether the FCC has jurisdiction to mandate inclusion of HD Radio, satellite radio, or other audio technology. (Para. 130)"

So, fear not, FCC now at least uses the phrase "HD Radio" and plans to meddle in the issue of why consumers are buying it. Does FCC have such jurisdiction? I doubt it.

However, another observation I made in Fry's probably is relevant: Fry's had 4 models of "Internet radios" in contrast with only 2 HR Radio models. The Internet radios are selfstanding units that use a Wi-Fi connection to connect to the net and a radio-like interface to access mp3 streams.

So consumers want Internet radios, not HD Radios. What should FCC do?

In the early 1980s there was a major dispute over AM stereo. Many accused FCC of denying this "breakthrough" service to the public through hesitation over picking one standard. Few want to observe that AM stereo never was successful in other countries that decisively picked a standard. Perhaps both AM stereo and HD Radio are technologies looking for customers. Pushing DTV was useful because it made channels 51-69 available for something more useful than over-the-air TV - watched by a shrinking minority of households. Pushing HD Radio, already rejected by consumers, probably should be a low priority. Why doesn't FCC do more to encourage new technology that give the marketplace more choices?
8/25/08 Update

The FCC has now released the promised NOI, calling it "
Notice of Inquiry Regarding Development of Devices Capable of Supporting Multiple Audio Entertainment Services." Like me, apparently FCC isn't sure whether it has this jurisdiction either:
"We seek comment on whether the Commission has the jurisdiction to mandate the inclusion of HD Radio, SDARS, or any other audio technology in receivers. Do we have express or ancillary statutory authority to require receiver manufacturers to include certain technology in receivers?" (Para. 21)
Another odd jurisdictional issue asked in the NOI,
"Should the Commission require reduced royalty fees to iBiquity if we mandate the inclusion of an HD Radio chip? If so, does the Commission have the authority to do so?" (Para. 8)
While having no formal legal qualifications, I am positive FCC lacks jurisdiction in both areas.

Just because we techies can build some new technology like HD Radio, consumers voting with their dollars may well decide not be buy it. This is what happened with AM stereo worldwide. If iBiquity wants to sell more radios, let them lower their license fees. That's how market's work, not through government regulation. (Sounds Republican doesn't it?)


Anonymous said...

Sorry Michael,

Frys has by my count 4 stores east of the Mississippi, the furthest east being Duluth GA.

Looks like you can get your Fry's fix with a 1 hour flight now!

Anonymous said...

I believe the consumer has spoken loud and clear already concerning HD radio: We don't want it! AM stereo was (and is) a good idea, too bad it failed, HD is a terrible idea, it also failed. ibiquity makes all their money from licensing the chips, they are not going to lower the price luckily for us, as all it does is pollute the AM airwaves with 30 Khz of noise covering up two adjacent channels and it just plain doesn't work on FM unless you are very close to the transmitter and even then highly touted "CD quality" sound is just baloney, analog radio sounds as good if not better. The secondary channels often have nothing on them and are now considered a dumping ground for bad formats.

Bob Young
Millbury, MA