Repack, FirstNet All Part of Tower Climber’s ‘Perfect Storm’

Tower companies are facing a climber crunch, a factor to consider as television stations face the upcoming channel repack. The television tall tower work, combined with densification of carrier networks, tower work for FirstNet and upcoming FAA tower marking mandates are all happening at the same time, according to National Association of Tower Erectors Chairman Jim Tracy.

“This is creating the perfect storm for tower companies,” he told lawmakers at the House Commerce Communications Subcommittee on Thursday. During a hearing on the repack, Tracy said NATE has contacted OSHA, the FAA, the FCC and other federal agencies to discuss safety and bring more climbers into the industry. “At present, there are not enough qualified workers to do all this work,” and the demands will be exacerbated by the repack, he testified.

“It’s not enough for people to want these jobs. They have to be physically and mentally capable of performing the task,” he said. He described tall TV towers as “big iron” and told Inside Towers after the hearing, that television antennas can weigh hundreds of pounds. NATE produced a video describing the repack work to retrain wireless tower climbers for the specialized work; it’s also reaching out to community colleges and the military to entice returning veterans, he said.  

NAB told lawmakers they’re not fighting the FCC-designated 39 month repack deadline. Broadcasters would like some assurance, in the form of legislation, that no station will be forced off the air if they can’t move in the designated time-frame through forces they can’t control, like bad weather impacting their tower work. NAB and America’s Public Television Stations urged lawmakers to approve additional funds for the repack, saying the $1.75B approved by Congress, will fall far short. “Broadcasters are not seeking any money from Congress beyond what makes us whole,” said NAB EVP/General Counsel Rick Kaplan.

The Competitive Carriers Association and CTIA stressed they’d like to see the repack completed within 39 months. CCA EVP/General Counsel Rebecca Murphy Thompson called the television spectrum “critical to bridging the digital divide” in rural areas. CTIA VP Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said the FCC has the authority to address any potential problems associated with the repack and it would be “unfair” to auction winners to delay the channel moves.

September 8, 2017

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