With the start of the reverse auction just days away, the post-auction transition could be poised to begin in mere months and broadcasters could be getting a little jittery over spectrum and spectrum auctions. In a four-page letter to the FCC yesterday, the NAB pointed out “a successful broadcast spectrum incentive auction includes three key components: the reverse auction; the forward auction; and the transition of broadcasters into a reorganized band plan… Repacking broadcasters into a smaller portion of the UHF band after the close of the auction will present unprecedented logistical challenges and require careful coordination, as well as close cooperation with the broadcast industry. At a minimum, several hundred broadcast television stations will be moving to new channels, with finite resources. Further, the potential for interference within and between adjacent markets will mean in many cases that all stations in a market may need to complete their channel moves in a carefully coordinated fashion, and that delays for individual stations may have widespread implications.”
Writing for broadcasters, NAB chief legal eagle Rick Kaplan said the NAB agrees with AT&T that the FCC “should begin conducting the intensive planning that will be required to ensure a successful transition, and dedicate the resources necessary to advance such planning.” The commission nevertheless can take steps to put in place a structure that will govern the transition and help ensure that viewers do not lose service and wireless carriers do not face avoidable delays in building out their licenses, the NAB said.
NAB suggested a three-point plan that includes having the FCC immediately begin a stakeholder outreach to inform its development of a repacking plan. “For example, wireless carriers may disagree concerning which markets should be prioritized based on which markets are most important to individual carriers’ deployment priorities. But industry expertise and experience will be critical to the FCC in developing a plan, and the commission should be actively engaging with stakeholders. Second, a regional prioritization plan should focus on clearing the most populated areas of the country first. The commission “should, where possible, rely on objective considerations for ordering markets and regions. One of those considerations should be cabining the impacts of unavoidable delays to less populated regions.” Further, wrote Kaplan, more highly populated markets will likely have the greatest density of broadcasters that must be repacked. “Delaying commencement of work in these markets may mean leaving the most complex transition projects until the end of the process, which risks creating extensive and otherwise avoidable delays in clearing the most valuable markets for forward auction bidders. Prioritizing the most highly populated markets will also help ensure that broadcasters in those markets can engineer a smooth cutover to their new channels, which will minimize viewer disruption and confusion.”
And the third point, “a regional prioritization plan must be flexible and capable of rapid recalibration. While we support beginning work in the most populated regions and markets first, there will inevitably be instances where work must be performed in less populated markets to allow more crowded markets to transition. Additionally, in a project of this magnitude and complexity, unforeseen complications are inevitable. For example, if tower modifications are required in a given market and zoning approvals create unavoidable delays, or if an antenna falls from a tower during installation, the commission must be able to pivot to other markets and/or regions to continue to make progress with the transition while those issues are addressed.”