FCC: Post-Auction Repack Planning Can't Wait

FCC incentive auction officials tried to make it clear Monday that they meant it when they said they wanted input on the post-incentive auction TV station repack plan, but they also said the time for general criticisms and comments has passed.

"Now that we have put out our proposal, the time for generalized questions and concerns about methodology and assumptions is over," said deputy chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force Jean Kiddoo at an Oct. 17 FCC webinar on the repack.

The FCC two weeks ago released its plan for a phased transition of TV stations to new channels following the spectrum auction. That plan was in response to input from broadcasters, equipment manufacturers, engineers, wireless providers, trade associations and others, but the FCC officials also said they wanted further comment from all stakeholders on the plan to help refine and improve it, if necessary. And they urged them to weigh in as swiftly as possible.

"Planning for the transition can't wait," said Gary Epstein, chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force, to open the webinar. He said the goal was to forge "a broad consensus among all industry stakeholders." That is in part because orchestrating the move, which includes potentially over a thousand moves among interrelated stations, requires close coordination.

Epstein also said the outside input on the plan, to date, has been “invaluable” in shaping it thus far.

For example, two stations can't be on the same channel, but some stations will have to move to their new channels before others have moved off their old. And in some cases, station A's move is dependent on station B's, and B's on C's, and so-on up to chains of a hundred or more stations.

Kiddoo pointed out that while the FCC won't know exactly which stations will have to move and where until the auction is over, potentially any station may have to move depending on the results.

But Epstein also made clear that what they wanted was news they could use, as in specific analysis, and if there are issues, specific solutions and how those would affect an efficient and effective transition.

Kiddoo seconded Epstein on the need for specifics not general criticisms.

"We urge parties to provide detailed comment and proposed solutions, including the ramifications of any changes on other parties, and the timing and cost."

"The FCC transition plan is amazingly thoughtful and the webinar presentation was clear and helpful," said Preston Padden, former executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which comprised TV stations interested in putting spectrum, into the auction.

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.