Rough DTV transition for public stations

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More than one-half of the country's 357 public TV stations will miss the Thursday deadline for inaugurating digital service -- a substantially higher
percentage than predicted six months ago.

Nevertheless, a greater share of public stations are meeting the rollout
target relative to commercial broadcasters, two-thirds of which missed their rollout deadline one year ago.

The reasons for public broadcasters' tardiness mirror in many ways the
problems suffered by their for-profit siblings.

Technical reasons such as severe winter weather, installation-crew shortages
and equipment backlogs were reported by 80 percent of the 195 stations seeking six-month extensions to complete digital-TV-facilities construction.

The Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau is entitled to grant two
half-year extensions.

Additional grants of time must be approved by the agency's five
commissioners.

Another 43 percent blamed legal tangles such as zoning disputes over
placement of digital-TV towers, interference coordination with Canadian stations, tardy
clearances from the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies.

Unique to public broadcasters, some stations also must follow strict bidding-approval procedures for equipment contracts.

Also unique to public stations, 20 percent of the laggards blamed delays in
construction funds expected from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

CPB officials acknowledged that money allocated by Congress has not been
passed on entirely to public stations yet as efforts to craft disbursement
criteria slowed outlays.

They also noted that stations are not entitled to CPB money until they raise sufficient matching funds.

Cognizant of the need for expedited cash, the Commerce Department Wednesday
announced $25 million in digital-TV grants to 56 public stations.

The grants are funded from the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program,
which typically announces awards in September.

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