The key to passing Federal Communications Commission inspections—and thereby avoiding fines—is to use sound engineering procedures routinely, experts say. These procedures should include making sure the home portion of the network is well-maintained and working to confront major deficiencies in the plant before they erupt into dozens of brush fires. Operators should strive to be in a proactive, not reactive, posture. There are several types of inspections mandated by the FCC. Cumulative leakage index (CLI) testing is designed to ensure that signals are not seeping into the aeronautical spectrum and endangering communications between ground and aircraft. It is done quarterly but reported annually to the commission. Within the CLI testing—which is filed on paper or electronically on FCC Form 320—is responsibility for leakage in subscribers’ homes. The FCC also mandates testing of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and towers. Straightforward, but vital
Installers or repair technicians can perform in-home testing of signal levels and leakage by using automated routines triggered simply by pushing a button on test gear. These features turn up problems that can be reported or addressed on the spot by the visiting personnel. Though testing is straightforward, it is vital. “The density of connections for the last 100 square feet in the house is obviously the highest [in the entire distribution path],” says Jim Harris, the director of marketing for the Instruments Division of Trilithic. “The opportunity to have a loose connection is high.” One potential problem with in-home testing is that operators often rely on contractors whose pay is based on the number of jobs they complete in a day. Unless monitored carefully, workers may be reluctant to report signal problems. Operators must be careful to make sure that problems aren’t being swept under the rug because of this, insiders say. Don’t wait
The backbone and distribution plants are different animals. Dedicated crews must continually work to find and shore up leaks. “The key thing about all of this is that there is no substitute for a proactive maintenance program on the plant,” says Kevin Oliver, the vice president of marketing for Acterna. “You don’t wait six months and then try” to get the plant in order. The FCC may be more forgiving if the system can demonstrate that it is making a good-faith effort. “We look at the logs to see if they are monitoring them and fixing leaks as they discover them,” Wayne McKee, the assistant chief of engineering for the FCC’s Media Bureau, says. “If they are doing that and happen to have a big leak—these things happen—we don’t take it too lightly, but are more likely to not impose as big a fine.” Operators must also be careful about their towers. The precise requirements depend on what type of device the structure is supporting and its height from ground to tip. Operators can utilize the FCC’s TOWAIR Web site (http://wireless2.
fcc.gov/UlsApp/AsrSearch/towairSearch.jsp) to determine to which category particular towers belong. One interesting tidbit, says Don Sambol, Time Warner Cable’s FCC compliance engineer, is that many cable operators are leasing space on their towers to cell phone companies. These companies often cover the entire structure with coaxial cable to the point at which the paint can’t be seen. Often, high visibility paint is a requirement. If so, Sambol says, operators must illuminate them with strobe lights. The height of the structure will determine whether the strobe is of medium or high intensity. Finally, the FCC is charged with ensuring that the EAS system is operational. This involves inspecting logs to make sure that the operator is testing and that the gear works. Spot checks, says McKee, are becoming more common. “I’ve talked to a few people, and it seems to be the one thing they are looking for right now.”
—Carl Weinschenk Cable operators have successfully introduced high definition TV (HDTV) programming during the past several years. They have also inserted advertising on these networks. This insertion, however, was inelegant. For starters, it was a labor-intensive process, and the quality—due to the difference in resolution between the main
program and the advertisements—was uneven. Terayon and SeaChange International say their jointly developed system turns this picture around. Skip that step
Previously, ad spots had to be inserted in the analog domain. So an HD feed would be decoded to analog, the ads inserted and the stream re-encoded into HD for broadcast. This obviously is wasteful. The approach Cox has rolled out in its Rhode Island system uses the Terayon and SeaChange gear to enable advertising to be inserted into ESPN HD programming streams without the analog conversion step. The results have been good. “The advantage for me as the provider is that I am able to leverage existing technology with minor incremental additions” to existing insertion gear, says Guy McCormick, vice president of technology operations for Cox Media, the advertising arm of Cox Communications. SeaChange’s DigitalX Transcoder takes the MPEG file containing the advertisement and transcodes it to HD. The unit than delivers it to the Terayon CherryPicker 6400 for insertion into the program stream, which never leaves the digital domain. The system uses SCTE 30 and 35 standards, says Brian Kahn, an engineering manager at Terayon. The key is that these boxes are able to handle the tremendous amount of additional data in an HD feed, says Mark Jeffery, Terayon’s director of product marketing and partner development. The system potentially improves picture quality because it avoids the loss of resolution that occurs through the conversions, though that benefit is not yet being realized because the original ads are in standard definition, McCormick says. Almost as important are the space savings the system allows. Jeffery says that the number of boxes necessary for the conversions grows quickly—a discrete encoder is required for each channel—while the all-digital solution requires only a single box until 16 HD channels are inserted, something that isn’t going to happen too quickly. “One box is going to do it for a number of years,” Jeffery says. Though no formal announcements have been made, McCormick says that Cox hopes to roll out the system in the 12 markets that have digital advertising insertion gear before the end of the year. San Diego and Orange County, Calif., and Hampton Roads, Va., are among those systems.