New law bans loud commercials

The CALM Act (S. 2847) — aimed at preventing loud commercials — was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 15. By voice vote a few days before, the House passed the bill with an amendment to make it compatible with the Senate version, which passed in October.

While the Act has now made it through the legislative process, that means only that Congress and the White House have passed the issue of loud commercials to the FCC. It is now up to the agency to adopt rules to implement the Act, and then it will be up to video providers to comply with whatever the FCC adopts.

Public support for the measure has been substantial. Broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors subject to its requirements may not be as pleased, though. The new law will require them to comply with standards approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. Those standards have, up to this point, been characterized as mere “recommended practices.” Now that the president has signed the CALM Act (and once the FCC gets around to implementing it), those standards will be legally mandated.

Complying with the new law may entail acquisition and installation of potentially costly new equipment. But the Act specifically provides for “financial hardship” waivers. The fact that the concept of “financial hardship” shows up as a consideration this early in the process may be cause for alarm.

The Act requires the FCC to have its rules amended consistently with the Act within one year of its enactment. The new rules in turn will become effective one year after their adoption by the commission. So we can expect all to be “CALM” by Christmas 2012.

Spectrum sharing

In an obscure and largely overlooked Notice of Inquiry, the FCC has begun to overhaul the foundations of radio communications by encouraging, or looking to require, spectrum sharing. The commission is still in the beginning stages of this initiative, however. To build a record, the agency is seeking ideas from the technical community on the following topics:

  • The state of spectrum-sharing radiosTechniques for spectrum sharing include detecting and identifying other users' transmitters, exchanging information among users to determine whether a frequency is vacant, and detecting changes in the noise floor to see if there is room for additional traffic.
  • Use of geolocation and real-time database for checking frequenciesThe white-space proceeding will test this idea once the FCC solves the problem of database design. However, geolocation usually relies on GPS, which does not work well indoors.
  • Building interference suppression into radiosMost experts would agree that good receivers are a key element of efficient spectrum use. Yet the FCC earlier considered but later dropped the idea of imposing standards on receivers.
  • Improving interference predictionSpectrum-flexible radios will have to avoid causing interference to other users. Effective technical rules must rest on good predictions of how radio signals at various frequencies behave in different environments.
  • Policy radiosThis is the next step beyond cognitive radios — i.e., transmitters programmed with broad policy constraints on spectrum usage. The concept is still in its early stages.

Under this plan, transmitters would automatically hop among frequencies, stepping into vacant channels temporarily and then moving on.


Last month's item on BAS policy changes implied that the requirement for frequency coordination for minor change modifications to fixed-link aural and TV BAS stations above 2.1GHz was a new FCC requirement. That is not the case. Frequency coordination has been required for new, major change and minor change BAS fixed-link applications since 2003.

Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.


  • Noncommercial TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee must file their biennial ownership reports by April 1.
  • By April 1, TV and Class A TV stations in the following locations must place their 2011 EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
  • April 1 is the deadline for TV stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania to electronically file their broadcast EEO midterm reports (Form 397) with the FCC.

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