The Broadcast and Cellular Industries Have This Issue in Common

There simply aren't enough tower workers available to handle the projects on the docket after the repack — and before, according to Stainless Biz Dev Manager Don Doty
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PINE FORGE, Pa. — Following industry research, Don Doty, business development manager for broadcast tower manufacturer Stainless, said “reliable information indicates that less than 40 high power antennas are on their repack frequency or ready to broadcast, representing less than 5% of the stations properly converted after completion of one third of the repack construction period,” as quoted in this article from wirelessestimator.com

Doty predicts that the repack will not be completed for an “additional three to five years after the mandated completion date of 2020.”

The repack requires 957 TV stations to change channels to clear the new spectrum for use.

Wireless Estimator also writes that three tower companies that work in broadcast said “they are fully booked for work for the next year and frequently have to decline additional requests for their services.” All three companies indicated that, based on their knowledge of the broadcast industry, the July 2020 deadline will be “impossible to achieve.”

In 2015, the NAB implored the FCC to reconsider its prior determination that all broadcasters designated for repacking must relocate within 39 months or be forced off the air. They said it was “The commission’s one-size-fits-all deadline is manifestly unreasonable; clearly, the deadline for repacking 200 stations should not be the same as the deadline for repacking 1,200 stations,” the NAB said in a filing, according to the same article.

Due to the repack, the shortage of tower workers really has two facets because of all the 600 MHz band construction that is called for. Some tower company executives are “ratcheting up their recruitment efforts in order to field enough technicians to meet an expected upsurge in demand,” according to fiercewireless.com. “As carriers work to deploy wireless networks on new spectrum bands, and upgrade their networks to 5G, those in the tower industry are working to make sure they have enough skilled technicians to actually do all that work.”

The topic of tower climbing safety is as important for the cell industry as it is for broadcast. This industry suffered a string of deaths and injuries during initial LTE network buildouts in 2012 and 2013. 

“Indeed, just this week AT&T was part of a $30 million settlement related to a 50-foot fall that severely injured a technician climbing one of the carrier’s towers in 2013,” according to the same article. 

The broadcast industry has seen at least two fatal accidents during the last 12 months — the Sept. 27, 2017, gin pole failure on a Miami broadcast tower that took the lives of three tall tower techs; and the April 19 incident in which a climber was killed, when the tower he was retrofitting to allow the TV broadcaster to move from channel 23 to 16 collapsed and killed him.

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