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RF Report: Transition Delay Will Cause Complications

President-Elect Obama and Congress are likely to move quickly to allow analog broadcasting to continue past Feb. 17, 2009.

This delay in the analog shutdown will cause problems, not only for public service and auction winner licensees on channels above 51 (will the FCC have to extend their build-out deadlines and license expirations?) but for broadcasters as well.

One of the first calls I received after it appeared the deadline delay was gaining traction came from a person responsible for scheduling transmitter installation crews. Many broadcasters, especially those with high-VHF analog channels, have decided to return to their analog channels post-transition and made plans to do those conversions shortly before or on Feb. 17. Any delay in the analog shutdown will require rescheduling engineers to help with channel change.

For many stations, the analog antenna is now at the top of their tower. While many applications for coverage expansion using top-mounted DTV antennas are still waiting approval at the FCC, broadcasters with construction permits for such antennas will have scheduled tower crews for removing analog antennas and mounting DTV replacements. If the analog shutoff is delayed, these crews will need to be rescheduled.

Also, a delay in the transition means a delay in the availability of the channels. There is no way they can delay the transition and expect broadcasters to vacate out-of-core channels. Because of the daisy-chain effect of channel changes and interference, such a move might leave some stations with no channel.

In addition to the technical concerns, there are business issues. The economic slowdown has hurt the broadcasting business.

Automobile dealers, a major source of advertising revenue, have been forced to cut back spending, as have retailers. Tribune, a major TV group owner, has filed for bankruptcy. Extending analog broadcasting will require stations to spend more for electricity. This will have a disproportionate impact on analog UHF broadcasters. Stations that lease tower space are also likely to incur additional costs for maintaining their analog antennas.

One way Congress and the FCC could minimize the impact of an extension of the shutdown would be to allow stations to voluntarily cease analog broadcasting before the new deadline. Several stations have either ceased analog broadcasting or are operating at reduced analog power due to equipment failures that would cost far more to fix than could otherwise be justified in light of the pending shut off. If a UHF analog station loses a klystron or IOT, repair costs would be in the tens of thousands of dollars, money smaller broadcasters don't have in these tough times.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.