B'casters waiting to enter digital door

WASHINGTON – Broadcasters who had been expecting to get the final word on their digital TV channel assignments may now have to wait an additional two weeks before the Federal Communications Commission releases the nationwide channel lineup, the agency announced Wednesday.

Broadcasters are eagerly awaiting the channel assignments so they can confirm millions of dollars worth of purchase orders for new transmission equipment needed to enter the digital era.

News of the delay frustrated many network reps, who face FCC pressure to get their digital stations in several top 10 markets up and running by next November.

“Obviously, every week, it makes it that much more difficult,” said ABC’s Bill Pitts, vice president for government affairs.

Once the FCC finalizes the list, broadcasters will be allowed to apply for their digital TV licenses. The licenses will give broadcasters a second TV channel to launch a digital TV service that could provide an array of commercial opportunities including high-definition television or multiplexed program offerings.

The delay was made at the request of FCC chairman Bill Kennard, sources said. FCC staffers will use the extra time to explore the possibility of setting aside channels 47-51 for other uses such as private radio communications or microwave communications.

FCC engineers are also trying to make more room for low-power television stations, sources said.

Although Kennard said the delay could be as long as two weeks, other sources suggested problems could be resolved by early next week.

Broadcasters were not the only ones frustrated with the decision to put off the digital channel assignments. Commissioner Susan Ness was “very disappointed” with the delay, according to an aide, who added that the issues “could have been resolved” before an agency meeting scheduled for today.

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