FCC Proposes Phased TV Repack Per Wireless’ Wishes

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Tower owners and operators, wireless companies, broadcasters and their equipment providers told the Commission a phased-in approach to the television spectrum repack, post-auction, makes sense. Now, the FCC agrees.

Several FCC bureaus are developing a phased-in approach. The agency has proposed construction deadlines to coincide with its proposed 39-month “phased” transition schedule. The FCC seeks comments on the proposal in a Public Notice. Comments are due to MB Docket 16-306 or GN Docket 12-268 on October 31.

The Commission is balancing “the need for a post-incentive auction transition timetable that is flexible for broadcasters and that minimizes disruption to viewers” with the need for a schedule that “provides certainty to wireless providers and is completed as expeditiously as possible,” it said in a notice released Friday. 

Now the agency says a phased-in construction schedule “would facilitate efficient use of the resources necessary to complete the transition.”

It also recognized that a phased transition schedule was likely to produce deadlines that “vary by region, by the complexity of construction tasks, or by other factors the bureau finds appropriate.” The FCC directed the bureau to account for “the needs of forward auction winners” meaning the wireless companies, and their construction plans.

T-Mobile, AT&T, and NAB all support conducting the transition on a regional basis and in a manner that is both orderly and flexible enough to account for unforeseen circumstances. Key issues that can affect the repack timing include weather, local zoning/permitting, and how much a tower might need to be modified.

There’s been disagreement about how many tower crews and RF and structural engineers are actually available and can handle tall towers and large, bulky television antennas. Television owner Belo told the Commission “The number of crews with the right kind of experience to work with heavy steel equipment on very high towers may now be five or fewer,” while NAB cited a Widelity Report that estimated “no more than 14 qualified tower crews to work on complex sites and 30 to 40 other crews that can handle simpler jobs.” It suggested pulling in tower crews from Canada to help out.

T-Mobile and CCA estimated that 21 qualified tower crews can work on complex sites and four additional regional crews could handle simpler projects; overall, T-Mobile identified 51 qualified tower crews. NAB disputed this, telling the agency some companies on the list were no longer in business.

The FCC is proposing ten “transition phases” with sequential testing periods and deadlines, or “phase completion dates.” The phase completion date will be listed in each station’s construction permit as its construction deadline and will be the last day that a station may operate on its pre-auction channel.

The Commission will determine the final TV channel assignment plan once the auction of surrendered television spectrum to wireless bidders concludes. It’s also releasing scheduling tools to help TV owners plan for disruption.

For the full FCC Notice go here.  

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