GAO study finds broadcasters ready for DTV transition

A congressional study has found that most television broadcasters are ready to transition to digital broadcasting, though some technical issues remain.

Remaining issues include moving antennas, setting channel positions, coordinating with cable operators and completing construction, said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report released last week.

The report, ordered by Congress with oversight from the FCC, said broadcasters found that 68 percent of broadcasters are already transmitting at full power, and 91 percent of 1122 full-power stations are broadcasting digital signals. The GAO termed this “substantial progress.”

Ninety-seven stations are not yet broadcasting digital signals, however all but three said they will be by the deadline of Feb. 17. Some said they are awaiting FCC decisions on construction permits or changes to their final digital channels.

A key unresolved issue is between broadcasters and cable operators, who need to coordinate the delivery of the broadcast signal to the cable headend. Thirty-two percent of the broadcasters said they were concerned that their digital signals may not reach cable operators or satellite-TV providers after the transition deadline.

Part of the problem is that the digital signal has a different reach than analog. Some cable and satellite operators may need to update their headends to receive the broadcasters’ signals. Both satellite and cable operators said they needed broadcasters to inform them of their digital coverage areas as soon as possible.

“It remains vital that those broadcasters that 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,“ said Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Internet.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, noted that some stations may have to switch to digital earlier than the turnoff date and is concerned that viewers are informed about and prepared for the early transition.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, called a hearing for June 10 to discuss the report and the proposed digital television test in Wilmington, NC.