The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that it would delay for 60 days the Sept. 7 deadline for broadcasters to move their electronic-newsgathering (ENG) operations to a new swath of spectrum while it considers their request for another two-plus years to complete the move.
Broadcasters and Sprint Nextel earlier in the week asked the FCC for another 29 months to make the move, and the commission's Office of Engineering and Technology said it would take those 60 days to consider that request.
Sprint has been working with traditional broadcasters to convert their ENG operations from analog to digital microwave technology as part of a $4.8 billion spectrum deal it brokered with the FCC in February 2005. The wireless operator agreed to spend more than $500 million replacing existing microwave technology with new digital gear that operates in a smaller swath of the 2-gigahertz spectrum.
"The facts ... indicate that responsibly completing the BAS [broadcast auxiliary service] relocation throughout the nation will require an additional 29 months beyond the current transition completion date," they told the FCC in filing for the deadline extension, which would move it beyond the digital-TV-transition date of Feb. 17, 2009.
Among the reasons for the delay they cited were strict government oversight and the fact that they have had to avoid disruptions to newsgathering and other operations during sweeps periods -- esssentially one-third of the year -- as well as elections, major sporting events and holidays. Then there are "bad weather, zoning disputes and accessibility concerns" that have taken their toll.
"This is a step in right direction," said David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), which was one of the groups asking for the extension. "These are very important issues.. We would like this process to move as fast as possible, but there are practical realities and we are happy to sit down with the commission and others in the industry to move forward."