Broadcasters Seek Extension of ENG Move

Electronic-Newsgathering Operations Moving to Digital Microwave Technology from Analog

As expected, broadcasters and

Sprint Nextel

are asking the Federal Communications Commission for another two-and-a-half-years to complete the relocation of electronic-newsgathering spectrum from current channel assignments to new ones.

It would be the latest delay in a years-long effort by the government to allow new services to share the 2-gigahertz band with broadcasters, which use it to transmit news, sports and other programming from the field to the TV studio for editing.

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-GHz spectrum.

The deadline for moving broadcasters to frequencies above 2025 megahertz and freeing up the spectrum is currently Sept. 7, but they say they are far from ready.

"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.

Given the recent mine cave-in, bridge collapse, flooding, tornados, terrorism alerts and heat waves, they argued, waiving the deadline will preserve the "availability of high-quality, interference-free video for important news, weather and sporting events."

"Inventorying, selecting, pricing, delivering, integrating and installing replacements for 30 years' worth of broadcast equipment for roughly 1,000 broadcasters will require" another 29 months, on top of the original 31-and-one-half they were given, they said.

The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) conceded last month that broadcasters were unlikely to meet the deadline, and Sprint indicated that it would seek the extension.


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