NAB: FCC Needs to Start Repack Planning ASAP

The National Association of Broadcasters says it agrees with AT&T that the FCC needs to start intensive planning on the spectrum auction repack now given that channel moves may need to be coordinated carefully and moving delays could have serious consequences for stations and viewers.

NAB says that plan should include factoring in costs and timing of the transition.

"While vital facts about the repack will not be fully understood until the auction concludes, including how many stations will move, where those stations are located, and to which channels they will be moving, the Commission nevertheless can take steps to put in place a structure that will govern the transition and help ensure that viewers do not lose service and wireless carriers do not face avoidable delays in building out their licenses," NAB executive VP and general counsel Rick Kaplan said in a letter.

The auction is expected to be completed until sometime in the third quarter. It starts officially March 29, but that is only the date by which TV stations must declare their participation (or not).

The FCC has signaled that given the availability of tower crews and other issues, a regional approach to the repack is likely, and NAB and AT&T concur. "We agree with AT&T that a regionalized approach to repacking is a logical framework," said NAB, saying the key to that approach is minimizing disruptions for broadcasters and viewers.

NAB also says that clearing the most populated areas should be a priority when prioritizing markets for regional clearing.

The plans should also include a dispute resolution system for repacking costs—there is a $1.75 billion fund to cover those—"to provide broadcasters with confidence that they will be reimbursed for their costs," says NAB as well as a waiver process "with predictable standards," for situations where "the transition extends beyond the FCC’s deadlines for a given market or region."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told a House Appropriations Committee last week that he was shocked at the number of antenna erectors, which is why the FCC was considering a regional approach to the repack. He also said that if the $1.75 billion is not sufficient to pay for the post-spectrum auction TV station repack, he would lead the parade back to Congress to ask for more. He also said that if there is a flood of stations moving, it would be "irresponsible" not to deal with the timing issue.

NAB says the FCC should immediately begin stakeholder outreach on such a repack plan and put in place a communications system for updating them on its progress.

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.