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Sprint Nextel and broadcasters seek extension for the transition to digital microwave

Contending the process is “far more complex and time-consuming” than anticipated, Sprint Nextel and a group of broadcasters have asked the FCC to extend the deadline for relocation of spectrum for electronic newsgathering operations until 2010.

The group told the FCC they couldn’t meet the Sept. 7 deadline to convert all BAS television equipment for digital operations. They requested a 29-month extension.

Sprint Nextel is working with about 1000 individual television stations to help them transition from the 1990MHz to 2005MHz band to the 2GHz digital ENG band. The spectrum is commonly used as a back channel to relay news, sports and other programming from the field to the station.

The process is the result of a $4.8 billion deal made in 2005 to allow Nextel Communications to use some needed spectrum for its wireless service. Nextel agreed to finance the transition and give up other airwaves to reduce interference on public-safety communications systems.

As part of the deal, the wireless operator agreed to spend more than $500 million to replace broadcasters’ older analog gear with new digital equipment that works in the 2GHz spectrum.

Sprint bought Nextel later that year to form what is now Sprint Nextel.

Among the broadcaster groups requesting the FCC extension is the NAB, MSTV and the SBE. “All sides are working this thing as hard as they can,” David Donovan, president of MSTV, told Bloomberg News.

All agreed that progress is being made, with all stations having completed inventories of their facilities and equipment, and 59 percent of the nation’s primary BAS licensees having approved supply and pricing plans for new equipment.

“Despite this progress, more time is needed to effectively complete the BAS transition,” the groups said. “Every stage of the transition — from inventory, to competitive bidding, to contracting, to provisioning, to training, to programming, to installation and reconfiguration —has entailed challenges beyond the control of the broadcast industry and Sprint as they try to replace 25 years worth of equipment in about 2.5 years.”