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GAO Report Questions Stations’ Readiness for DTV Transition

May 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

A new Government Accountability Office study is raising questions about how fully ready TV stations will be for February’s digital TV transition, even as it reports “substantial progress” since its last station survey.
The study hints that for some smaller-city northern stations, the timing of the switch, at the height of winter, and the needed equipment changes on antennas could mandate switching to digital before the scheduled Feb. 17 change. That would avoid the possibility that snow and ice could prevent workers from accessing towers on Feb. 17.
The report is generating some concern from Capitol Hill, which has been using the GAO to independently track the progress of the transition.
The latest report, issued Tuesday, said the good news is that the 91% of the 1,122 full-power stations that were surveyed already are generating a digital signal, with 68% of those doing so at full strength and on the channel they will use after the Feb. 17 transition.
The not-so-good news is that 13% of stations still have work to do, whether relocating digital or analog antennas, buying equipment, building digital production facilities or getting approval for their signals from other countries. Stations along the U.S. border need the approval of Canada and Mexico for their new digital signals; some don’t yet have it.
In addition, some stations can’t easily generate both analog and digital at the same time, either because of antenna limits or because doing so would require a significant power reduction for analog signals that would leave a number of viewers without signals.
The GAO survey said 47 stations said they still need to build or reinforce a broadcast tower for digital facilities. Another 69 stations said that due to financial woes, they hadn’t yet started airing a digital signal or in some cases started construction on needed digital facilities.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he was generally pleased with the report, but concerned “that there remain a number of hurdles for the industry to overcome.”
“In particular, due to the nature of the transition process as mandated by the FCC, a number of stations presently simulcasting in digital will need to make channel changes to ensure continued digital broadcasting post-transition. This suggests that there is the potential for significant technical issues as the hard deadline is reached,” he said.
He warned that early termination of analog signals “may confuse consumers and leave them scrambling for converter boxes before the end of the transition.”
Sen. Inouye said he remains concerned that Americans haven’t been sufficiently informed yet about the transition.
Rep. Ed. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s telecom panel, also expressed concern.
“While the GAO found that most broadcast television stations around the country appear prepared for the DTV transition from a technical, operational standpoint, the GAO also highlighted several technical issues for many television broadcasters that must be addressed in markets across the country,” Rep. Markey said.
“It remains vital that those broadcasters who have lingering or looming technical issues, including adjustments to tower and antenna apparatus, have plans in place to address them now, while there is still ample time.”

5 Comments

  1. Tuesday, June 10, 2008
    i have been wondering if smaller, independent stations would have financial hardships in complying with this transition to all digital signals. Will this have the outcome that smaller, independent stations will have to give up their companies because of lack of funds for the move? We have seen that happen over and over again to small businesses. People forced out of business by legislative moves that are designed for just that purpose. We are also seeing most of the network and cable news stations carrying the same content including views and opinions across the nation. is this action also meant to squash independent content? Is that the point of this change over? You have to go more and more to the internet to get content presented from all points of view in an original format.

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