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Another Setback in ENG Backhaul Take-Back

A government plan to take back a portion of broadcasters' backhaul spectrum, half a decade in the making and repeatedly delayed, is likely to be delayed once again.

Broadcast- and satellite-industry sources expect the FCC to extend this week's Sept. 6 deadline for concluding negotiations between broadcasters and mobile-satellite-service companies seeking to claim the reallocated ENG spectrum, located on the 2 GHz portion of the radio spectrum. Broadcasters are entitled to compensation but must work out the actual payments with the new users.

But the two sides never began negotiations.

Broadcasters are beginning to wonder whether the satellite company expected to be the main seeker of the frequencies, ICO Communications, will ever start talking money. "It's been three years with no negotiations," said Jack Goodman, regulatory attorney for the National Association of Broadcasters.

For more than five years, the FCC has been trying to figure out how broadcasters can share spectrum used for electronic newsgathering with new mobile satellite services (MSSs).

Plans to share it have been plagued by delays. On April 15, database problems forced the FCC to postpone for six months plans to implement coordination procedures to make room for the new services and estimate compensation for stations. The current delay is expected to be announced this week, although FCC officials would not comment.

The FCC is forcing broadcasters eventually to relocate from 35 megahertz and shrinking the size of ENG channels.

Broadcasters are asking the FCC not to follow through with what they believe will be a proposal for phasing in the reallocation market-by-market. Phasing in will allow MSS companies to spend their cash more slowly as they build out each market. Broadcasters would like the reallocations, and the compensation, all at once.

Last week, members of the NAB and Association for Maximum Service Television's Ad Hoc 2GHz Reallocation Committee said they are designing an alternative that would avoid the "substantial interference" the FCC plan would create in top-30 markets. A phase-in poses the danger of creating interference when news crews from adjacent markets, such as Washington and Baltimore, cover stories from the same location on different ENG channels.