By Dary Patten, DMA RiversideJanuary 10, 2020
RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Sgt. 1st Class Peter Yokel was part of a team that recently upgraded cable equipment at McMurdo Station and the nearby Black Island communications facility in Antarctica, bringing television service to more Americans on the isolated continent.
The mission, conducted throughout October and November, upgraded systems from analog to digital at the two sites and also at the .U.S. Antarctic Program in Christchurch, New Zealand, managed by the National Science Foundation.
The upgrades were completed along with annual maintenance of equipment used to receive and distribute American Forces Network and Navy Motion Picture Service programming to researchers and support personnel in Antarctica.
"It's not easy to distribute cable TV in that environment," Yokel said. "On the far end of the distribution lines the cable was very snowy [referring to visual interference on the screen]; some channels were lost, and overall it was working, but poorly.
Yokel is assigned to the Defense Media Activity Broadcast Center in Riverside, California, and the lead technician for the mission, Andrew Sciascia, is assigned to DMA at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Often taken for granted in the current age of high-speed Internet, social media and communications tools, television and radio serve as more than just a form of entertainment for those stationed so far away from home, Yokel said.
"All communications in and out are via satellite and a microwave relay," Sciascia said. "The combined Internet bandwidth available to everyone is about 17Mb/sec which is less than an individual cellphone.
"There are no cellular towers, so it would be very easy to become isolated from what is going on in the rest of the world. The radio and television not only provide some entertainment, but [are] the primary source of information [from] back home.
"The old analog cable system had a lot of issues. There was not only a lot of interference, but the signal was so bad that some of the dorms had no television at all. We were able to not only improve the signal quality, but provide signal to places that had none. It is a huge quality-of-life factor, not only being able to watch the news or movies or sports, but it gives people things to talk about," Sciascia said.
Yokel and Sciascia both agreed that the upgraded digital cable TV system contributed to an increase in the quality of life for the people stationed there.
"Antarctica, being that it's cold, isolated, and has limited communication channels to the outside world, can be a difficult place to be," Yokel said. "What this upgrade meant to the people that are working there for months at a time was that on their down time they could escape into a movie, catch up on their TV series, read the scores on their team's games, and be well informed on the weather. This upgrade has made a huge impact on morale," Yokel added.
The United States government deploys about 700 scientific researchers and 2,500 support personnel to operate and maintain the scientific facilities every year, according to the National Science Foundation.