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T-Mobile to FCC: Sinclair/Tribune Needs Repack Conditions

T-Mobile has come just short of asking the FCC to deny the Sinclair/Tribune merger on the grounds that it could impede its access to broadcast spectrum for which it paid billions in the broadcast incentive auction, citing Sinclair calls for incentive auction delays in the past.

"The 'New' Sinclair will have over 110 stations slated for repacking and over 50 stations vacating the newly created 600 MHz band—making it by far the largest broadcaster engaged in repacking," T-Mobile told the FCC. "In addition to broadcast stations, Sinclair also controls Dielectric, the nation’s largest television antenna manufacturer, and Acrodyne Services, a television equipment servicing company; and owns numerous broadcasting tower and transmission sites. This massive portfolio of stations and vertically integrated businesses will provide New Sinclair with multiple means to thwart the repacking process in practically every region of the country."

T-Mobile was the top bidder in the broadcast incentive auction. In comments to the FCC on the proposed merger, the wireless provider said that the transaction "poses significant risks to the success of the post incentive auction repack."

Related: Public Knowledge: FCC Should Nix Sinclair/Tribune

It signaled if those risks were not ameliorated through deal conditions, the merger should be denied.

Those conditions are: 1) the imposition of a clear and unambiguous obligation on the Applicants to comply with the repacking timetable that the Commission has adopted for their stations [stations are being repacked in 10 phases]; 2) the imposition of substantial penalties for failing to meet this timetable; and 3) a prohibition on the Applicants’ requesting any ATSC 3.0-related concessions from carriers [like T-Mobile] in negotiations to accelerate Sinclair’s departure from the 600 MHz band."

The FCC has set a 39-month deadline for the repack, which T-Mobile says must be adhered to, saying the merger must not be allowed if it threatens that schedule.

Related: Newsmax to FCC: Deny or Dismiss Sinclair-Tribune Merger

T-Mobile is trying to get stations to exit the spectrum as quickly as possible so it can start using the spectrum for mobile wireless service as soon as the end of the year.

It argues Sinclair has the incentive to impede the auction in addition to a history of trying to do so, pointing to its appeal of the 39-month schedule in court, which was rejected, and telling the FCC it should be providing for the inevitable delays of that timeline.

T-Mobile says Sinclair's "all-in" support of ATSC 3.0—it has long been a proponent of the advanced TV standard and holds a handful of related patents—“gives it a strong self-interest in using whatever leverage it has to promote the adoption of this standard," including delaying access to the spectrum by winning wireless bidders.

John Eggerton
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.