Archive | June, 2004

How Indecent!

I haven’t blogged much in a while about the indecency brouhaha because I’m rather sick of it, and because the debate has gone from holding accountable the major broadcasters who rake in billions using a public resource–the airwaves–that they pay no rent or user fee on, to one about reactionary moralism. Unexpected? No. Disappointing? I guess so. Call me naive.

So, the Senate passed a defense bill on Tuesday that contained a rider to raise the top fine for broadcast indecency tenfold, from $27,500 per incident to $275,000. The bill also contains a rider the delays the implementation of the FCC’s new ownership rules, that still aren’t in effect due to a court injunction.

It’s interesting to note that there was no Senate floor debate over these riders, since they were mere backroom attachments — just like the rider that eviscerated LPFM back in 2000.

Now, it’s off to the House, where these riders have a much lower likelihood of making it through alive.

At this point I’ve ceased to care whether or not these provisions pass, since in six months it will all be ancient history, until the FCC does something stupid like fine a community radio broadcaster for playing a feminist anti-misogyny rap song. I might care more if the provision on the ownership rules rolled them back entirely rather than instituting a one-year delay.

It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy seeing Clear Channel and Infinity fined into the stone age — but that won’t happen. I don’t buy the argument that community broadcasters are in the same boat as these giants when it comes to things like indecency. This history of content regulation has always been prejudicial, political and inconsistent as hell — not to mention unprincipled. When the feds want to go after a community broadcaster airing unpopular views, they’ll do it, and use whatever rule or fine they can find that’ll do the job. If the most expeditious route is to use indecency rules, then they will. They’ll just as easily use some other rule or regulation if that’s easier.

It’s an enormous mistake to think that any logical principle is at play when it comes to broadcast regulation. So, screw Clear Channel, screw Congress and screw the FCC. Not a single one of them is actually interested in what would make broadcasting better for children, never mind all of us.

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Amp for iTrip Transmitter? Boost Your Signal, But Also Boost Your Noise. Be Safe and Do It Right.

Boing Boing points to a design for a tiny amplifier to boost the signal of the iTrip personal FM transmitter, which is the older brother to the iTrip Mini, blogged about yesterday as hackable to do short-range “pirate” broadcasting.

One of the basic problems with boosting the signals of these mini FM transmitters is that they were never intended to produce strong signals in the first place. Thus, their output tends to be relatively “dirty” — producing harmonics of the broadcast frequency that can cause interference to other stations. This aspect is generally not a problem with the stock mini-transmitter, since harmonics are usually much lower in power than the broadcast frequency, which is already ultra-low.

But when you start boosting the output of these mini-transmitters, you definitely boost the interference, too.

I’m not a real electronics whiz, but I don’t see a low-pass filter of any kind, which means that the interference can go past the FM band into the aircraft band. Now, at the kind of power level this amp is likely to produce, this doesn’t reall pose much of a danger. The real concern is the “splatter” of interference that can screw up other radio stations on the dial in the vicinity of the transmitter.

My advice is, if you want to start broadcasting further than what the power of an iTrip or a similar mini-transmitter will do, then you should look into transmitters designed to go further. There are some nice 1/2 watt and 1 watt designs out there that you can get for $100 or so. They’re specifically designed to limit interference in the broadcast band and other bands, too. NRG Kits in the UK sells a nice 1 watter for £99.95 fully assembled (that’s about $181.00 US). DIYmedia.net has a good list of other vendors who might have cheaper models.

However, do note that once you’re boosting the output of an iTrip or using a transmitter that puts out much more than 10 milliwatts, then you’re likely exceeding the limits of FCC Part 15 regulations. That means that you are no longer broadcasting within the limits of the law — you are a pirate.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m fine with that. But if you want to keep broadcasting with minimal harassment from the feds and other broadcasters, then you need to be a lot more careful, and try to be a good neighbor on the radio dial by not causing interference and not broadcasting on someone else’s frequency.

Free Radio Berkeley has a great primer that goes over all these issues, downloadable as a pdf: Micropower Broadcasting – A Technical Primer.

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National Summit On Community Wireless Happening August in Urbana

From their press release:

The Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN), Prairienet, and Free Press invite you to join us for a national Community Wireless Networking Summit August 20-22, 2004 in Urbana, IL. “Making the Connection: The 2004 National Summit for Community Wireless Networks” will focus on grassroots action, impacting national regulations and policies, and building a coalition of local groups, researchers, policy leaders, decision-makers, and community activists.

It’s time we organized to take the public airwaves back from corporate interests. Community Wireless Networks offer more services for cheaper prices and are owned by the communities that deploy them. Anyone interested in making the “public interest” the number one priority in our wireless telecommunications infrastructure should definitely attend this summit.

Community Wireless Developers from across North America will be demonstrating cutting-edge technologies; researchers and programmers will discuss recent breakthroughs and developments; and policy-makers and funders will strategize with participants on how to launch new initiatives.

More information and registration options are at the conference website.

I just had a brief e-mail exchange with Sascha, one of the conference organizers, about adding a session on streaming media over wireless. He seems enthusiastic, so it’s all about the details.

Previously:

  • Champaign-Urbana’s Community Wireless In the News, 4/28/04
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    iPirate

    Gadget blog Engadget posted that they were able to extend the range of their iTrip mini FM transmitter for the iPod Mini, along with instructions. Essentially what they did is open up the iTrip to get to the internal antenna and get it outside the case.

    I’ve often told people that these little personal-type FM transmitters could be used to do “pirate radio” within an apartment building or dorm with a little bit of modification like this, though you can probably get more by extending the antenna.

    The ability of an antenna to radiate a radio signal is directly related to the length of the antenna relative to the size of the radio wave you’re broadcasting. Various fractions of a FM broadcast wave work well for broadcasting, like 1/4 wave, 1/2 wave or even 5/8 wave. Since the iTrip puts out a miniscule amount of power, maybe around 1 milliwatt, antenna efficiency isn’t going to buy you much, but it will buy you something.

    The wavelength in the middle of the broadcast band at 100 Mhz is about 118 inches. Since the iTrip transmitter is no more than 3 inches in any dimension, it’s unlikely there’s anything even close to 1/4 of that wavelength’s (29.5″) worth of antenna wire inside. You could coil up that amount of wire, but that won’t work for an FM broadcast antenna.

    In their mod, Engadget only pulled out the little wire, which looks to be a few inches long — this simply gives it a little less plastic to radiate through. I suspect that adding another length of wire to it would extend range a tad, but probably anything more than 30″ would be overkill.

    In the end any transmitter like the iTrip is going to be limited in how far it can broadcast because it is produced under FCC Part 15 rules, which governs unlicensed signal radiators (which includes PCs, since they generate electromagnetic interference). Part 15 rules put a firm cap on how far these little FM transmitters may broadcast — anything extending past this is technically unpermitted.

    The iTrip looks like a pretty well designed mini-transmitter, however if broadcasting more than 10 feet is your goal, you might check out the venerable FM-10C from Ramsey Electronics. It’s a kit, so it requires a bit of soldering (but is easy enough that a beginner could do it), but is easily modified and easily accepts an external antenna that will greatly extend range.

    The Ramsey used to be very popular with newbie would-be pirate broadcasters because it is so cheap and modifyable. There’s a treasure trove of FM-10 hacking tips and discussion (and flame wars) in the Google Groups Usenet archives from the mid-90s. The canonical FM-10 FAQ is there, or you can find it in the archives of the original FAQ author’s website.

    There’s a whole underground of folks using Part 15-compliant ultra-low-power transmitters to create legal (or near-legal) unlicensed radio stations. The restrictions on the AM band are less stringent than FM, so many more people are working in that area. But, of course, FM is much higher fidelity, can be stereo, and most people have better FM radios.

    And, so what, if you have to push the limits of Part 15 restrictions for FM broadcasting? What’s the real difference between broadcasting across the house and down the block? Is it illegal if nobody complains and nobody catches you?

    For more on ultra-low-power broadcasting, see the Community Radio USA message board, which tends to focus more on AM. Or check out some of these older items on mediageek:

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    Congressional Push to Restore LPFM

    Free Press is running a campaign to restore LPFM by pressuring Congress to pass McCain’s pro-LPFM legislatin. They have an on-line petition and contact info for your Congresscritters.

    Despite my disdain for lobby politics, I reckon this is worth doing, especially since only the NAB at this point is going to actively oppose LPFM. A strong public voice in favor, with little to no public opposition, should speak loudly to those representatives inclined to actually listent to their constituents.

    I wrote both of my senators back in 2000 to urge them to support LPFM as the NAB lobbied hard to kill it. Sen. Dick Durbin was and has been a big supporter of LPFM, while Sen. Peter Fitzgerald said nothing substantial but signed onto a bill to kill it.

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