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GAO: Most Broadcasters Ready for DTV Transition

Most broadcasters are prepared for the digital transition, but technical issues remain including completing construction, moving antennas and channel positions and coordinating with cable operators.

That was the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday. The report was requested by legislators with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.

The report said broadcasters had made "substantial progress," with 91% of the 1,122 full-power stations responding to the survey saying that they were broadcasting in digital, 68% of those at full power. Nearly 100 stations (97) said they were not broadcasting in digital yet, but all but three of those said they expected to be by the Feb. 17, 2009, analog-cutoff date for full-power stations.

Some stations said they had not finished their digital build-outs because they were waiting on FCC decisions on construction permits or changes to their final digital channels.

The commission did not comment on the report, according to the GAO, saying that since the survey period went from December 2007-February 2008, the findings would not necessarily square with its records. The FCC also said, according to the GAO, that "it believes broadcasters have everything they need from the commission to proceed with construction of their final digital facilities.”

One issue broadcasters and cable operators will need to deal with together is coordinating the delivery of the broadcast signal to cable operators. Approximately one-third (32%) of broadcasters said they were concerned that their digital signals may not reach cable operators or satellite-TV providers after the transition (DTV-coverage areas will not be identical to analog).

According to the GAO, one cable operator it spoke with said it might need to update its headends (where it receives TV stations' signals), which number in the hundreds. A satellite provider said it might need to build new facilities.

Both satellite and cable operators said they needed broadcasters to inform them of their digital-coverage areas as soon as possible.

“It remains vital that those broadcasters that have lingering or looming technical issues, including adjustments to tower and antenna apparatus, have plans in place to address them now while there is still ample time," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee and one of the people who asked for the report. "We must also ensure that the FCC remains on top of these issues and works with industry to address them to ensure overall success.”