The FCC is seeking public comment on additional recordkeeping requirements for radio stations in a wide-ranging item that also established service, operational and technical rules for terrestrial digital radio. The proposed regulations would require radio stations, both analog and digital, to use a standardized form to record their public interest activities and publish the contents of their public inspection files online.

The Commission's recordkeeping proposal came as part of the long-awaited release of the final service rules for terrestrial digital audio broadcasting (DAB), widely known by the "HD Radio" brand name. Stations using DAB technology can transmit digital signals on their existing channels while retaining analog service. In some cases, a station can use its channel to broadcast multiple digital streams (known as "multicast" streams) or to transmit data. Listeners must use a DAB-compatible radio to receive stations' digital signals.

The final DAB service rules permit, but do not require, stations to adopt DAB technology. For the near future, all stations must continue their analog service, and stations with digital operations must simulcast their analog programming in digital format. This policy differs from the Commission's plans for the transition from analog to digital television, which has a firm timeline for shutting off analog TV service. The FCC said it would monitor the penetration of DAB service and decide later whether to mandate a full conversion from analog to terrestrial digital radio.
The recent decision also permits radio stations to offer multicast streams or transmit data without seeking individual authority. Stations must seek special permission, however, if they want to limit services only to subscribers. In a later proceeding, the Commission will decide whether to impose additional public interest requirements on DAB subscription services. Additionally, the FCC will consider whether to impose fees on revenues stations receive from subscriptions.

The Commission also allowed stations to lease their unused digital capacity and encouraged stations to offer leases to minorityand women-owned businesses.

The new DAB rules will go into effect 30 days after their publication in the Federal Register. Public comment on the Commission's proposals, including the proposed additional recordkeeping requirements, are due 60 days after such publication. For a full summary of the new rules and the FCC proposals, please contact a Wiley Rein attorney.