UPDATE NAB EVP Government Relations Curtis LeGeyt told lawmakers this week that, in addition to broadcasters, those who work on towers, are sounding alarms about delays as the repack continues. They cite unforeseen structural work, site failures, permitting delays and winter weather affecting stations’ ability to meet repack deadlines, Inside Towers reported. “Given the expertise and safety training needed for crews to service towers over 1,000 feet,” these same representatives, believe they “are witnessing the effects of an unrealistic expectation of what the repacking of 987 stations, with associated low power television displacements and FM accommodations, entails,’” said LeGeyt, quoting the towercos and crews.
The experts LeGeyt was referring to in the House Telecom Subcommittee hearing are Dielectric, Stainless, Vertical Technology Services, and American Tower Corporation. According to a filing with the agency this week, their representatives recently met with officials from the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force and the Office of Engineering and Technology about what they’re seeing on the ground.
In addition to problems discussed above, they cited delays from LPTV displacements, requiring the pulling of equipment and crews, poor weather conditions slowing tower work by months, and stations conducting their latter-phase transitions earlier than required. “Delays resulting from these circumstances persist despite daily contact with rigging companies to coordinate shipments and request last-minute parts in an effort to mitigate any interruption in repack operations,” say the equipment manufacturers, tower and rigging companies.
They’re concerned about the “extreme shortage of competent, safe crews available to install main antennas” on towers 1,000 feet and taller. The equipment manufacturers, tower and rigging companies, believe it’s too late to expect crews to be hired and trained in time, “to meet the expected influx of repack work in 2019 — especially given the priority goal of ensuring that these crews work in the safest possible environment.” Dielectric, in particular, told the agency it’s concerned about seeing crews “jump back into the broadcast industry,” using outdated equipment.
All of these factors, “have resulted in demands on the rigging community that simply cannot be met,” say the experts. They want to work with broadcasters, incentive auction winners, and the FCC, to develop solutions.
Proposed solutions include adding more crews and equipment. Stainless plans to roughly double the number of crews available by dedicating more U.S. crews to the repack and bringing in crews from Europe.
They also propose extending the repack timeline to July, 2023, but working with auction winners to facilitate their build-out needs. Keeping the current July 2020 timeline is also an option, but they propose shifting all stations to Aux facilities which are quicker to install, and then returning later for the main antenna installation within the reimbursement window. They acknowledge this option is “unlikely” to be popular with broadcasters because of coverage loss. Comments? Email us.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
December 14, 2018