TowerCos to FCC: “Lift Communication Ban for Repack Now!”

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logo-fccTower companies and their crews are at the heart of the FCC’s planned repack of television stations into a smaller chunk of spectrum following the spectrum auction. Inside Towers did some digging into the FCC’s files to see what these companies think about the FCC’s proposed repack transition plan. Companies like American Tower tell the FCC the agency’s schedule is a good start, but needs some fine-tuning to take into account realities on the ground.

American Tower commends the Commission for the overall quality of the plan, which will affect more than 1,000 television stations, and offers suggestions for further streamlining. Chief among those? The agency should provide stations their post-auction channel assignments and technical parameters before the auction ends, to give TV owners more planning time.

The FCC should also lift its communications ban on auction participants so stations sharing the same tower can talk to each other, their tower vendors and others. The Commission should clarify that all stations sharing a tower will be assigned to the same transition phase, according to the company in filed comments. This will “maximize efficiencies, cost savings and climber safety by eliminating the need for tower crews to work on the same tower multiple times to separately transition different stations,” and enable tower owners and managers to coordinate the process.  

The transition plan should recognize more sites as “complicated,” requiring more time to transition, notes American Tower, citing its Mount Harvard and Mount Wilson sites in Los Angeles in particular. The phased approach should recognize 75 to 80 percent of stations to be repacked will need to use temporary transmission gear, such as an Aux antenna, either on their pre-auction or post-auction channels, which would add manufacturing and installation time to the process.

Potential weather delays should be acknowledged too. “While it is generally accepted that wind significantly increases the difficulty and danger associated with tower work, some of the comments suggest that cold weather and icing do not similarly delay construction efforts.”

American Tower disagrees, telling the FCC: “While tower crews may be able to climb a tower that is iced over to complete less complex tower maintenance tasks, they are unlikely to be able to safely climb a tower that is iced over to do rigging and to change out heavy equipment weighing thousands of pounds. Even if a crew is able to continue work during extreme winter weather, construction and installation will not occur at the same pace as they otherwise might, which will result in delays and increased costs.”

Additional factors need to be considered when determining how many tower crews are available, according to the company. While the agency says in its Public Notice 25 U.S. crews are available to work on difficult sites, but the FCC plan doesn’t “appear to take into account that not all of those crews” are qualified to work on complicated sites by owners, “based upon their level of expertise and actual on-tower time logged.” In fact, American Tower has only approved 14 crews to work on its complicated sites and understands other tower owners may similarly limit the number of crews they deem qualified.

November 2, 2016

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