GAO report probes US readiness for DTV transition

A US Government Accountability Office study is raising questions about how fully ready TV stations will be for next February's digital TV transition, even as it reports “substantial progress” since its last station survey.

The study hints that for some smaller-city northern stations, the timing of the switch, at the height of winter, and the needed equipment changes on antennas could mandate switching to digital before the scheduled change. That would avoid the possibility that snow and ice could prevent workers from accessing towers.

The report is generating some concern from Capitol Hill, which has been using the GAO to independently track the progress of the transition. The latest report said the good news is that the 91 per cent of the 1,122 full-power stations that were surveyed already are generating a digital signal, with 68 per cent of those doing so at full strength and on the channel they will use after the February 17th transition.

The not-so-good news is that 13 per cent of stations still have work to do, whether relocating digital or analogue antennas, buying equipment, building digital production facilities or getting approval for their signals from other countries. Stations along the US border need the approval of Canada and Mexico for their new digital signals; some don't yet have it.

In addition, some stations can't easily generate both analogue and digital at the same time, either because of antenna limits or because doing so would require a significant power reduction for analogue signals that would leave a number of viewers without signals. The GAO survey said 47 stations said they still need to build or reinforce a broadcast tower for digital facilities. Another 69 stations said that due to financial woes, they hadn't yet started airing a digital signal or in some cases started construction on needed digital facilities.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he was generally pleased with the report, but concerned “that there remain a number of hurdles for the industry to overcome.”

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