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MSTV Preps Broadcasters for 2009 Transition

MSTV invited broadcasters to a Web cast this week to focus on the steps broadcasters need to take to prepare for the shutdown of analog TV broadcasting less than two years from now.

The key message was that broadcasters have to begin preparation now if they are changing channels on Feb. 17, 2009. David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television showed the results of a survey conducted by MSTV listing the number of tower companies qualified to work on tall broadcast towers and the number of major manufacturers of critical components such as transmitters and antennas that indicate it will be difficult for manufacturers to meet demand. In the northeast U.S., only two summers remain to complete tower and antenna work.

While Andrew Long, associate chief of the FCC's Media Bureau said the commission was moving as quickly as possible to process applications and develop post-transition rules, he didn't appear optimistic that all the international coordination issues would be resolved before the transition. This may result in some stations being forced to operate with less coverage than they expected. Many stations are waiting on adoption of the final DTV table of allotments or removal of the freeze on modification applications extending coverage area before ordering equipment.

When questioned about when broadcasters might see the final DTV table, Long said that the FCC was moving "as fast as it could," but that he said he couldn't provide a time line. FCC rulemaking procedures require time for filing comments and replies to comments. The FCC then has to consider these comments in creating the final report and order.

John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations described the problems public TV stations face obtaining funding for transmission system changes in the limited time before the transition. He recommended public TV stations not wait for the final DTV table or for applications to be granted before filing requests for the funds needed to complete the DTV transition. At a minimum, they need to work with equipment manufacturers to make sure the equipment will be available when the funding comes.

Marcellus Alexander, executive vice president of television with NAB described the efforts the association was making to educate consumers about the DTV transition. Recent studies have shown many Americans do not understand the transition.

All of the panelists agreed a successful transition depended on cooperation between broadcasters, manufacturers, consumer electronics manufacturers and the FCC. In some markets, stations will be exchanging channels with other stations. In many cases, a station may have to move to its allotted DTV channel before another station in the same or adjacent market can move to its final channel. This will require coordination on the local level.

MSTV will soon begin conducting meetings across the country to help broadcasters coordinate local transition efforts. Stations hoping for a delay in the transition may be disappointed. All the participants on the panel saw little chance the Feb. 17, 2009 date would be changed. There is simply too much political pressure to recover the spectrum and broadcasters, some of which have been keeping analog transmitters running well past their useful lifetime, want to eliminate the high cost of operating two transmitters simultaneously.

MSTV has made a recording of the Web cast available online, either in Real or Windows Media formats. A PDF of the slides is also online. Look for them at