I was only five years old when the final piece of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was hoisted into place some 630 feet above the ground below.
But I remember the iron workers building the Arch spayed water onto the south leg to cool it off. Otherwise, thermal expansion of the stainless steel leg would have made it impossible to place the last section.
Those iron workers and engineers understood the challenge, adapted to the circumstances and overcame a potentially serious obstacle.
That memory seems strangely appropriate to the TV spectrum repack and what transpired at the FCC on Wednesday (July 12) afternoon as the computer servers powering the agency’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) choked.
It appears roughly half of the 957 TV stations assigned to new channels waited until the 11th hour to log onto the LMS and file an FCC form that detailed their existing RF plants and estimated the expense of replacing them.
I know firsthand how unstable the filing system became. Wednesday was the fifth day of my LMS fishing expedition. It involved entering the call sign of each station changing channels, looking to see if they had yet filed their Form 399s, retrieving them one by one and collecting their estimated expense information.
But by Wednesday afternoon when the LMS began returning internal server error messages, freezing up and even taking me to wrong web pages, it became clear serious server trouble was developing.
My problem, however, paled in comparison to that of stations finding it impossible to file. They were working against an 11:59 p.m. filing deadline in order to qualify for the first allocation of funds from the $1.75 billion broadcaster relocation fund.
When my FCC contact arrived in his office Thursday morning, he had an email from me waiting in his in box. My question was simple: “What about the stations that missed the deadline because of the LMS server meltdown?”
To his credit and that of the agency, the response was quite reasonable. In part, it said:
“We are aware that some filers attempting to submit yesterday afternoon and evening had difficulty submitting their filings. We’ve been in contact with most those entities and are working with them to get their estimates submitted. Any entities experiencing technical difficulties will not be excluded from the initial allocation.”
Just like those iron workers spraying water onto a leg of the Arch, the FCC understood the challenge, adapted to the circumstances and overcame.
I can only hope the same will be said of how the agency treats the inevitable delays stations will experience as a limited number of qualified tower crews –many of which will be working at more than three times the height of the Gateway Arch- encounter weather, wind and unplanned for rigging obstacles.
Repack phase testing and completion deadlines are tight, numerous and interdependent. Inevitably delays will mount and begin rippling throughout the process, making the 36 months left to complete the project harder and harder to achieve.
Back in the early 1960s, those in the know predicted 13 construction workers would lose their lives in accidents while building the Gateway Arch. Not a single worker died.
Let’s hope no one on a tower rigging crew dies in the process of trying to complete this very dangerous work on a very tight deadline.
An important first step in achieving the goal of zero fatalities will be a willingness on the part of the FCC to adapt and overcome by extending the 36-month deadline as needed.
It’s one thing to pick up the pieces after a server crashes and quite another after tons of steel do.