The earth may have moved for some, but apparently not for the FCC.

In the 1980’s, geographers around the globe began to realize that the North Pole was fictional. Not the one where Santa Claus lives, but the one that represents one end of an axis around which the Earth rotates. The one where all the longitude lines on a map should intersect, and the lines of latitude converge. It turned out this North Pole was not quite where we had put it. Meaning, from a cartographical standpoint, that geographic coordinates did not accurately reflect physical reality.

This revelation came about because, as we sent an increasing number of satellites into orbit above the Earth, they stubbornly insisted on circling around a center of mass several hundred feet away from the north-south axis conventionally relied on by geographers. Even then, we might not care, except that satellites used for GPS navigation and surveying provided latitude and longitude based on the true center of the Earth, which differed from the coordinates marked on people’s maps.

Geographers, being orderly people by nature, found the discrepancies troubling. Conceding the point to the satellites, they duly set aside the old coordinate system, North American Datum 1927 (NAD27), in favor of North American Datum 1983 (NAD83), which better reflects the actual center of the Earth’s mass.  True, this caused the coordinates of landmarks across much of the country to change overnight, but that is a small price to pay for consistency,

So how ironic that the FCC, which regulates many kinds of satellites, still conducts certain business – specifically, CDBS, its broadcast licensing database – using NAD27. For comparison, the FAA converted to NAD83 19 years ago, the FCC’s wireless licensing system, 12 years ago. The need for the change is a no-brainer – the Media Bureau apparently just hasn’t gotten around to it.

Perpetuating the sense that this is the issue time left behind, a Society of Broadcast Engineers petition for rulemaking has just surfaced in the Commission’s docketing system. The petition is dated August 10, 2007 (yes, SBE has a “stamped” copy with that date), but is marked in the FCC’s records as having been received April 6, 2011.  The petition has not yet been docketed or assigned a rulemaking number. And given the history of this issue, we’re not counting on further developments anytime soon.  Change in this area happens only by degrees.