Repack Questions: Is 39 Months Enough Time? Is $1.75B Enough?

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The wireless industry wants to get its hands on the spectrum being vacated by television broadcasters as soon as possible and believes the FCC-allotted 39 months for the TV channel repack following the end of the incentive auction is feasible. Broadcasters don’t think 39 months is enough time and they certainly don’t think the $1.75 billion Congress has allotted for reimbursement costs will be enough. That’s what representatives of both industries told lawmakers Thursday during a hearing on spectrum needs of the Communications Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.

CTIA VP, Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said getting timely access to the 70 megahertz of new mobile broadband spectrum, and an additional 14 megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed uses like WiFi and LTE-U/Licensed Assisted Access services, is critical to the country’s leadership in 5G. Noting that the wireless industry supports a “seamless repacking process” for broadcasters, he also said it’s a long time to wait, which could have consequences. “Three years and three months is significantly longer than the wireless industry has had to wait to begin deploying new services to consumers in recent auctions, and any delay would put at risk 5G development, rural build-out, and be inequitable to those companies investing nearly $20 billion in new spectrum.” 

Raycom Media President/CEO Pat LaPlatney, testifying for NAB, emphasized broadcasters believe the time and money allotted for the repack “will be inadequate.” The owner of 60 television stations received its FCC letter a month ago informing Raycom where its new channels would be. “It’s a complicated process. In a couple of markets we have to move from Channel 12 to Channel 8,” said LaPlatney.

Such a move will entail a new antenna “that will weigh potentially thousands of pounds more” that needs to be erected “on the tower,” he said. LaPlatney thanked Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), as well as co-sponsors, including Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), for their work on draft legislation that ensures broadcasters have adequate time and resources to successfully repack. The draft ensures no television or radio broadcaster would pay out of pocket to cover repack costs and that no broadcaster will be forced off the air due to circumstances beyond their control. 

March 3, 2017

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