FCC Grants More Time for ENG-Band Relocation

The Federal Communications Commission granted Sprint Nextel more time to complete the relocation of electronic-newsgathering spectrum from current channel assignments to new ones to make room for advanced wireless services.

The FCC also decided to waive a requirement that broadcasters in the top 30 markets be relocated before new wireless services can begin operating, while asking for comment on how to deal with any potential interference problems between the old and new services sharing the band.

It is the latest extension in a years-long effort by the government to allow new services to share the 2-gigahertz band with broadcasters, which use it to transmit news, sports and other programming from the field to the TV studio for editing. That relocation is possible because broadcasters will need less of the band when broadcasting in more spectrum-efficient digital.

Sprint Nextel, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television asked for an extra 29 months past the most recent Sept. 7, 2007, date, which the FCC extended while it considered the request, then granted two more extensions, with the most recent expiring March 5, 2008.

The FCC decided to give them until March 5, 2009, or 18 months past that deadline. But even then it left open the option of extending that deadline even further.

The commission conceded that the relocation has been more complicated and challenging than initially anticipated. "We must also consider that broadcast entities are already heavily involved in preparing for the DTV transition, which will occur Feb. 17, 2009," the commission said. "We believe it is prudent to set a date beyond the DTV-transition date for the completion of the relocation."

MSTV president David Donovan was generally happy with the outcome.

"MSTV is pleased that the FCC acknowledged the tremendous effort that is necessary to relocate our electronic-newsgathering operations. We will endeavor to meet the March 5, 2009, deadline," he told B&C. "We understand that the FCC is proposing to allow MSS [mobile-satellite-service] operations in uncleared markets on a secondary, noninterfering basis. We look forward to working with the commission on this issue to prevent interference to news operations in some of the largest and most important media markets on the planet."

Sprint Nextel has been working with traditional broadcasters to convert their ENG operations from analog to digital microwave technology as part of a $4.8 billion spectrum deal it brokered with the FCC in February 2005. The wireless operator agreed to spend more than $500 million replacing existing microwave technology with new digital gear that operates in a smaller swath of the 2-GHz spectrum.

"The facts ... indicate that responsibly completing the BAS [broadcast auxiliary service] relocation throughout the nation will require an additional 29 months beyond the current transition completion date," they told the FCC in filing for the deadline extension, which would move it beyond the DTV-transition date of Feb. 17, 2009.

Among the reasons for the delay cited were strict government oversight and the fact that they have had to avoid disruptions to newsgathering and other operations during sweeps periods -- essentially one-third of the year -- as well as elections, major sporting events and holidays. Then there are "bad weather, zoning disputes and accessibility concerns" that have taken their toll.

Glen Dickson contributed to this report.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.