600 MHz auction and channel repacking will drive demand for tower workers

One outcome of the upcoming 600 MHz spectrum auction is that qualified tower workers, particularly those that have experience working on tall towers, will be in hot demand because broadcasters will need to change a lot of hardware on their towers and the FCC will require them to do make those adjustments within three years.

According to a report commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters and conducted by Digital Tech Consulting, the 600 MHz incentive auction will likely result in a flurry of activity for tower workers, similar to the June 2009 deadline for the U.S. DTV switchover.

The report, which was reviewed by TV Technology, said that qualified tower workers will be needed to make all the anticipated hardware changes within three years, as allotted by the FCC. However, it's difficult to predict exactly how many towers will be impacted and how many tower workers will be needed because it's still uncertain how many broadcasters will participate in the 600 MHz auction.

Nevertheless, the study anticipates at least 800 to 1,200 broadcast TV stations will need to change their antennas and replace some of their RF components. According to the report, there are only about 16 tall tower crews available to handle the workload and the report predicts that within three years only about 360 antennas will be retrofitted, which is less than half of the amount necessary.

Tower experts say that the FCC's timeline is aggressive, if not impossible. "You need to be aware too that there are a limited number of qualified structural engineers and tower crews. It is going to be a problem, especially considering weather, [in] getting the repack done in the extremely short timeframe while maintaining safety standards," said Keith Pelletier, vice president and general manager of antenna maker Dielectric, according to TV Technology.

Plus many of the qualified tall-tower workers have migrated to the wireless space and work on cell towers, not broadcast towers. "You start ramping up broadcast again and there could definitely be a shortage of contractors qualified to do work, and broadcast towers are a whole different animal than cell towers," said National Association of Tower Erectors Executive Director Todd Schlekeway, according to TV Technology.

For more:
- See this TV Technology article

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