Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cox foresees end to NBC glitches

Microwave link expected to solve problems with signal


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Channel 7's repetitive headaches, such as the hour-long screen freezes during the 2010 Winter Olympics, should soon be a thing of the past.

Dan Wherry, director of operations for Wood River Valley's cable provider Cox Communications, said a "microwave link" receiver has been installed on Bald Mountain to solve the NBC channel's valleywide glitches. A microwave transmitter has also been installed at Jerome Butte outside of Twin Falls, where the NBC signal originates. Wherry said the new system should be operational in weeks after some last-minute details are worked out with the Federal Communications Commission.

"We're well on the way to getting it wrapped up," he said.

The microwave link solves the channel's problems by sending the signal from Jerome Butte over microwave frequencies in a specific direction to the Baldy receiver.

Doug Armstrong, general manager of NBC affiliates KTVB-Boise and KTFT-Twin Falls, said the microwave link works like a "flashlight beam," sending information in one concentrated direction, whereas the current transmitter at Jerome Butte sends information in all directions. That signal, pouring out in all directions, can't travel as far. And it's a long 70-mile trip to Baldy.

Armstrong said the current antenna works "just fine 97 percent of the time," but storms and harsh winter temperatures can affect the signal at that distance. And with a digital signal, he said, you either get it or don't. The microwave link would take these weather problems out of the equation.

Armstrong said NBC and Cox are splitting the costs of the microwave link. He said the majority of costs come in buying the equipment, installing it and obtaining an FCC license. He said the operations costs of a microwave link are "very limited," taking just electricity, and not a lot of it. NBC will pay for operating the transmitter and COX will run the Baldy receiver.

Armstrong said the FCC license has been approved, meaning the microwave signal wouldn't interfere with other transmissions in the area.

Wherry first announced plans for the microwave link at a March 11 Sun Valley City Council meeting, saying it would be here by the end of April. He appeared at the city's request for answers because of residents' repeated concerns following the Olympics screen freezes.

Cox's problems pertain to Sun Valley's government because the city has a 12-year franchise agreement with the company—due for renewal next year—to guarantee that "high-quality cable" will be provided for the public.

Ketchum and Hailey also have franchise agreements with Cox for the same reason, and those are "non-exclusive," meaning other cable companies are allowed to operate in the same area. Under the franchise agreement, Ketchum and Sun Valley receive a yearly fee from Cox equivalent to 3 percent of Cox's gross revenue. Hailey receives 5 percent. The fee is in lieu of any charge for use of city streets, alleys and public places.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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