Skeletons of the dinosaurs

“Infrastructure” — the very word sounds somehow stout, sturdy, stable. “Plastic,” says Doc Searls:

The term “infrastructure” suggests physicality of the sturdiest kind, but in fact all of it is doomed to alteration, obsolescence and replacement. Some of it (Roman roads, for example) may last for centuries, but most of it is obsolete in a matter of decades, if not sooner. Consider over-the-air (OTA) TV. It is already a fossil. Numbered channels persist as station brands; but today very few of those stations transmit on their branded analog channels, and most of them are viewed over cable or satellite connections anyway. There are no reasons other than legacy regulatory ones to maintain the fiction that TV station locality is a matter of transmitter siting and signal range. Viewing of OTA TV signals is headed fast toward zero. It doesn’t help that digital signals play hard-to-get, and that the gear required for getting it sucks rocks. Nor does it help that cable and satellite providers that have gone out of their way to exclude OTA receiving circuitry from their latest gear, mostly [to] force subscribing to channels that used to be free. As a result ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS are now a premium pay TV package. (For an example of how screwed this is, see here.) Among the biggest fossils are thousands of TV towers, some more than 2000 feet high, maintained to continue reifying the concept of “coverage,” and to legitimize “must carry” rules for cable. After live audio stream playing on mobile devices becomes cheap and easy, watch AM and FM radio transmission fossilize in exactly the same ways.

I note for reference that of the thirteen full-power TV stations licensed to somewhere within the Oklahoma City market, only two are broadcasting on the channel they say they are: KWTV (9) and KETA (13). (In Tulsa, it’s two out of twelve, including, yes, the OETA station.)

So should we dismantle the antenna farm? Searls says yes:

[I]f you want to do something green and good for the environment, lobby for taking down some of these towers, which are expensive to maintain and hazards to anything that flies. Start with this list here. Note the “UHF/VHF transmission” column. Nearly all these towers were built for analog transmission and many are already abandoned.

I checked two of the taller ones in the state, KWTV’s in northeast Oklahoma City and KTUL’s in Coweta, and they’re apparently still in use, digital notwithstanding. Doesn’t mean they’ll stay in use indefinitely, though.


  1. fillyjonk »

    31 August 2009 · 8:49 am

    What about slapping wind turbines on them and calling them “green energy”?

  2. CGHill »

    31 August 2009 · 9:57 am

    They’re probably badly spaced for such things, though I haven’t actually measured.

  3. Scott »

    31 August 2009 · 11:49 am

    Ummm…”green” would be repurposing. Immensely tall towers with sight lines measured in degrees of latitude & longitude don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d think a network geek like Searls would dig this.

  4. unimpressed »

    31 August 2009 · 1:23 pm

    Probably too many connections, but think of the WiFi coverage….

  5. Scott »

    31 August 2009 · 3:30 pm


  6. Old Grouch »

    31 August 2009 · 6:45 pm

    Bah, about what you’d expect from someone who lives in Boston. He needs to get away from the metroplex and take a nice trip west from Chicago on I-90 (or even better, US-20) if he thinks those towers are unnecessary.

    Cable doesn’t go everywhere, satellite is too expensive, and the entire country isn’t covered by phone cells. Plus, broadcast remains independent of the variegacies of cable systems and other networks: Given a working receiver in range of a working transmitter, you have communication, regardless of the flood, fire, or frost that’s in between them.

    And for the user, all of those alternatives represent continuing expenses, sometimes hundreds of dollars monthly. OTOH, broadcast has the upfront cost of the receiver and antenna, then you’re done. Think of the poor people!

    (I know: We can institute a federal program of “TV stamps” for the income-deprived. Of course, being a federal program, and the since feds know what’s good for you, these would only work for PBS, Discovery, History Channel, and the Nightly News. All that “entertainment” junk would be right out.)

    Yes, the “broadcast” part of broadcast TV may ultimately disappear. So may broadcast radio, although probably not until everybody can get a reliable IP connection in their pocket for approximately $0/month.

    (Do I expect a shakeout in the broadcast sector. Yes. There are too many stations that don’t make economic sense. But that’s largely the fault of industry mismanagement, and regulatory cluelessness . Fewer stations != none.)


    OT- is hanging your page rendering.

  7. Old Grouch »

    31 August 2009 · 6:48 pm

    Para 4 replace “the since” with “since the,” as “since the feds know…” TXBYE.

  8. Doc Searls »

    24 September 2009 · 8:10 pm

    FWIW, I do get away from Boston (and California, and everywhere). And I do dig big towers. Always have. Used to do site studies for them. And have shot more of them than most folks:

    Mostly I’d like us to think about what’s happening with this old infrastructure. If it can be re-purposed, cool.

    Meanwhile, digital coverage by all OTA TV stations remains substantially less than it used to be, and that the FCC claims it is. And OTA viewing everywhere is going down.

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