01.19.2009 08:34 AM
Anxious broadcasters await decision by Congress on analog shutdown

A delay for the DTV transition could cause headaches for television broadcasters on several fronts.

Not the least of which are the electric bills. Broadcasters will pay tens of thousands of dollars a month to operate both analog and digital signals in a delay.

Some stations cannot air a full-power digital signal until another station’s analog signal goes off the air. For example, the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown, MD — WHAG-TV — will move its digital signal to channel 26 after the transition. But channel 26 is occupied by Washington area public television station WETA. So the Hagerstown station cannot air a full-power digital signal until WETA removes its analog signal.

“This is so complicated,” Howard M. Liberman, a lawyer with Drinker Biddle & Reath, told the “Washington Post.”

Then there’s the issue that many stations have already hired crews to turn off their analog signals and reposition their antennas for digital broadcasting. The logistics of rescheduling could be complex, not to mention costly.

Finally, much of the broadcaster’s analog spectrum has been purchased by telcos for their wireless networks. Last year, wireless companies, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, spent more than $19 billion to buy the airwaves that will soon be vacated by the analog broadcasts. Those airwaves will be used to provide faster broadband networks for public safety agencies and mobile phone users.

AT&T has said it would support a “short delay” in the transition as long as Congress ensures that companies licensing the spectrum will “suffer no other adverse consequences.” Verizon Communications opposes a delay, arguing it will cause still more confusion for consumers.

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