GAO Finds What Broadcasters Know About DTV Transition

A report from the Government Accountability Office confirms there“s lots of work to be done before the Feb. 17, 2009 analog TV termination. According to the GAO report, released by House Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a considerable amount of construction lay ahead for many stations.

Of 1,122 stations that responded, the GAO said 68 percent are transmitting digitally in full power. The rest are either planning to move to another channel assignment or simply don“t have digital capability yet. Twenty-three percent of stations intend to move the digital signal to their current analog channel assignment. A full 9 percent--91 stations--are not yet broadcasting a digital signal. Another 13 percent of stations surveyed still need to install or relocate digital or analog antennas. Some still need or order antennas and other necessary equipment.

The GAO proceeded to ask an antenna maker about turnaround times, which range from six weeks to nine months, depending on the complexity of the design. Getting the stick on the tower is another matter entirely. In some cases, getting a tower is the matter entirely.

“According to our survey, 47 stations indicated that they need to construct a broadcast tower or reinforce an existing tower to build their digital facilities. Another 69 stations responding to our survey indicated that they have not started construction on their final digital facilities, or that they have not begun broadcasting a digital signal due to financial constraints,” the report stated.

International coordination also remains unresolved.

“Some stations are awaiting agreements with the Canadian and Mexican governments regarding their signals crossing the borders of these respective countries before they can complete their digital facilities,” the GAO report stated.

“Stations also need to coordinate with cable providers and satellite companies to ensure that cable and satellite facilities receive digital signals when the analog signals are turned off,” it said. “Lastly, the construction of broadcast towers or financial constraints might affect some stations during their transition.”

The study found 61 stations that planned to flash cut to digital, i.e., they will fire up their digital transmitters the minute the analog transmitters shuts down, using the same channel.

“According to FCC, flash cutting may present challenges, since it will involve stations“ ending their analog television operations and beginning their digital television operations on their current analog channel or, in some cases, will require that a station change to a new channel to be fully operational,” the reports said.

Only one-fifth of the 61 flash-cutters had started constructing their final digital facilities.

Markey stressed the need for federal cooperation in addressing the complications.

“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,” he said. “We must also ensure that the FCC remains on top of these issues and works with industry to address them to ensure overall success.”

The GAO surveyed 1,682 stations and received 1,122 completed questionnaires for a response rate of 66.7 percent.