The Los Angeles market cluster, which includes TV stations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Palm Beach, CA, achieved an important milestone in June when the Broadcast Auxiliary Service licensees there completed their 2GHz BAS relocation.
Finishing the project in the Los Angeles cluster is significant because of the magnitude of the task and the progress it represents in the nationwide effort to complete the relocation.
While the size of the job, which required replacing electronic news gathering (ENG) equipment in some 200 ENG vehicles, 14 helicopters and at 175 receive sites, is impressive, it may be what the completion of the market cluster represents as a sign that the overall project nationwide is proceeding expeditiously that’s most important.
The transition of the Los Angeles market cluster takes the total number of markets relocated to 108 as of June 8. This tally and other benchmarks, such as the percentage of BAS licensees that have completed frequency relocation agreements and the percentage that possess all of the equipment needed to finish the job, are important signs to the FCC that despite various unanticipated delays, Sprint Nextel — the company footing the tab for the relocation — and broadcasters are serious about completing the project and deserve more time to finish.
In its June 10 Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission said as much: “We also believe that Sprint Nextel, working with the broadcasters, has made a good faith effort to increase the pace of the BAS transition.”
That “good faith effort” was enough for the commission to grant Sprint Nextel and broadcasters until Feb. 8, 2010, to wind up the nationwide project. Originally, the commission had set a deadline of Sept. 7, 2007, to complete the relocation of seven analog BAS channels between 1990MHz and 2110MHz to seven digital channels between 2025MHz and 2110MHz. However, a variety of unforeseen circumstances has delayed the relocation, making it necessary for the FCC to grant a series of extensions till this month when the it reset the deadline to February 2010.
Once cleared, 5MHz of the freed-up spectrum will be allocated to Sprint Nextel for cell phone use and 30MHz of reclaimed spectrum will be allocated to new Mobile Satellite Service companies and future Ancillary Terrestrial Component network providers.
The delay in completing the BAS relocation has put the commission in the position of trying to balance competing priorities in serving the public interest –specifically, maintaining live news shots from the field and allowing new communications services to come online. Still, the accelerated pace of progress has helped the FCC decide to maintain the primary status of BAS operations in the band at least until Feb. 8, 2010.
The lesson from Los Angeles
If there’s one thing that can be learned from the success of the BAS relocation project in the Los Angeles market cluster, it is the importance of cooperation and testing.
“We really wanted to force people to do due diligence in testing the equipment to see what was going to happen,” said Chris Neuman, an independent consultant and owner CNC Consulting in Los Angeles.
Neuman, the former director of broadcast operations and engineering at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles and the person selected by Sprint Nextel to coordinate the relocation in the market cluster, conducted two separate tests of the newly retrofitted ENG resources with all of the BAS licensees in the area. During the first digital BAS shakedown held April 25 at Sweetwater Video Productions in Van Nuys, CA, Neuman and the broadcasters followed a test script checking different operating parameters every five minutes. The tests revealed some of the new radios had firmware problems, which were corrected by time the second test was conducted in late May.
As a result, when the cluster transitioned June 6, “we had ironed out 98 percent of the issues, which made the actual day of the transition –one that we had not relished for years- very uneventful and smooth.”
John Kruer, manager of technical operations at KNBC/KVEA in Los Angeles, also attributed the success of the transition in the market cluster to cooperation among BAS licenses. “Especially in L.A., all of the broadcasters worked together. We were extremely cooperative and called each other. Everybody covered each other’s back,” he said.
Cooperation alone, however, is no guarantee of success. Planning proved invaluable in making the relocation as success on the ground as well as in the air. According to Carston Bell, director of aerial photography for Angel City Air flying out of Whiteman Airport in the San Fernando Valley, planning was particularly crucial to converting the market cluster’s news helicopters.
“Here in L.A., we have a very intense newsgathering cycle from the air due to geography, topology and news environment,” he said. “Aircraft can’t be out of service for an extended length of time, and there are not many helicopters to move in to backup those taken out of service to be retrofitted.”
Angel City Air, which is contracted to fly news copters for KCBS, KTLA and KCAL in Los Angeles, had to plan carefully to draw from a limited pool on backup aircraft to meet ongoing newsgathering demands while shuffling its helicopters through difficult, regulated retrofits, he said.
A possible bump
While the success of the relocation in the Los Angeles market cluster should give the industry a reason to cheer, there remains the fact that much work needs to be done industrywide to complete the project. True, the FCC has given Sprint Nextel and broadcasters about an additional six months to finish the project, but it’s equally true the commission wants to advance roll out of MSS service in the band.
For the time being, the commission has reaffirmed that BAS licensees in uncleared markets maintain their right to protection from harmful interference from MSS service, said David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television. “BAS licensees in uncleared markets have remained primary, and MSS can’t interfere with ENG operations,” he said.
However, the recent FCC Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on whether or not BAS licensees that haven’t relocated by February 2010 should maintain their primary status. The commission even asked for comment on whether they should lose their right to transmit on the old BAS frequencies after the new deadline.
According to Donovan, finishing the project by Feb. 8, 2010, prevents the possibility entirely. “We are working mightily to achieve that,” he said. “But if for some unforeseen reason we don’t, we believe we should still be primary in the band. News shouldn’t be interfered with,” he added.