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ABC, Sprint Nextel Agree on Spectrum Relocation

The ABC station group and wireless carrier Sprint Nextel have agreed to terms on how Sprint Nextel will reimburse ABC’s 10 owned-and-operated stations for new digital microwave gear that will allow ABC stations to vacate spectrum they have been using for electronic news gathering (ENG) and free it up for Sprint Nextel’s use.
The process, known as “2 Ghz Relocation,” is the result of a $4.8 billion agreement the FCC brokered with Sprint Nextel in February 2005. The deal moves some of Sprint Nextel’s operations out of the 800 megahertz (MHz) frequency band, where its signals were interfering with public-safety communications, and into part of the 2 gigahertz (GHz) band, which broadcasters use to send both live and taped feeds from their trucks to the station.

Sprint Nextel must spend roughly $500 million on digital ENG gear that will allow broadcasters to operate in a smaller swath of microwave spectrum. The wireless carrier will give back spectrum valued at $2.1 billion and also write the federal government a check for $2.2 billion.

By FCC mandate, the 2 GHz conversion process is due to be completed by broadcasters nationwide by September 2007. While Sprint Nextel has been working to coordinate the spectrum relocation and broadcasters have taken labor-intensive inventories of the microwave transmission gear that needs to be replaced, negotiations had bogged down over the last year over legal issues, specifically what sort of accounting treatment broadcasters will be able to apply to the new digital gear and the subsequent tax implications.

Industry sources have suggested that recent progress was being made, however, and that the Association for Maximum Service Television and lawyers working on behalf of several station groups had crafted a rough template for a “Frequency Relocation Agreement” that stations and Sprint Nextel could work with. The ABC deal seems to be proof of that progress.

Sprint Nextel and ABC say they have agreed to a template Frequency Relocation Agreement (FRA) for each ABC-owned station and a Group Reimbursement Agreement (GRA), covering ABC's station group relocation-related expenses. Under terms of the agreement, Sprint Nextel will pay for ABC's 2 GHz relocation-related expenses, including the acquisition of comparable equipment to operate in its new frequencies.

"We're delighted to have reached this accord, enabling ABC-owned stations across the country to continue their critical local newsgathering and reporting, in compliance with the FCC's spectrum relocation decisions,” says Dave Converse, vice president and director of engineering, ABC Owned Television Stations. “Our agreement is the result of a lot of hard work by both Sprint Nextel and ABC and it serves the interests of both companies."

Michael Degitz, vice president of spectrum management for Sprint Nextel adds, "I'd like to thank our friends at ABC and my colleagues at Sprint Nextel for the many hours of hard work in reaching this agreement. ABC has again shown its leadership in the broadcast industry by being the first major broadcaster to reach agreement with Sprint Nextel on BAS relocation reimbursement. These agreements provide a model for other licensees to complete their own agreements according to the FCC's requirements."