An FCC workshop looking at how the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund should be administered got a wake-up call June 25 from a major broadcast RF vendor who said that jumping into the process of repacking broadcasters into spectrum will create "complete chaos" without adequate preparations.
Jay Adrick, VP Broadcast Technology, Harris, one of four panelists presenting at the workshop, told those in attendance and watching a live stream on the Internet that vendors cannot do much to ramp up for the relocation of broadcasters to new channel assignments until "we have answers."
"We need to answer the unknown. How many stations are moving and where are they moving to," he said.
The relocation of TV broadcasters to new channel assignments is the second of a two-step process the commission is employing to free up spectrum to be auctioned off to wireless providers to meet anticipated future demand for wireless Internet service. It will follow the execution of incentive auctions in which broadcasters may choose to relinquish part or all of their spectrum for a slice of the money raised from the spectrum auction to wireless companies.
Congress has allocated $1.75 billion from the proceeds of the auction to fund the relocation and given the commission a three-year window to wrap up the project, which opens following the conclusion of the auction.
Following opening remarks by Media Bureau Chief William Lake, Adrick presented a succinct, eye-opening account of what will be necessary to complete the relocation project. Adrick raised several key points, including:
· Less than an estimated 5 percent of stations will be able to change channels within the technical limits of their existing transmitter and antenna;
· Roughly 40 percent of stations will be required to change channels with transmitters that employ currently supported technology;
· Fifty-five percent with be involved with a channel change with a transmitter that is no longer supported;
· Stations changing channel assignments may be off the air for three to five days while completing the move;
· Tower specs have changed "dramatically," and many existing towers may not be up to the new specifications;
· Only 14 tower crews capable of working on 1000ft to 2000ft sticks exist in the country, and they will take an average of five weeks to complete a single station's antenna work.
According to Adrick, a planning period of 18 to 24 months will be necessary so that consulting engineers have the time to determine the suitability of towers, what antennas will be required and to do coverage studies aimed at approximating existing coverage contours. "Without that planning period we are going to have complete chaos," he said.
The other panelists, including Brett Haan, principal, Deloitte Consulting; Jane Mago, executive VP and General Counsel, NAB; and Patricia Tikkala, VP, Spectrum, Sprint Nextel, agreed that planning would be critical to make the relocation effort successful.
Planning will need to extend beyond the technical to make a repack successful. Sprint Nextel's Tikkala recounted the delay encountered with the 2GHz Broadcast Auxiliary Service relocation as the tax consequences of swapping out old analog ENG equipment for new digital antennas and radios were determined.
NAB's Mago warned that not having enough information up front can lead to "oddball things" delaying the project. For example, she said, some local communities my object to new broadcast tower locations. She also emphasized that some 58 percent of broadcasters currently are on a shared tower, and that many of them will not be changing channels but could still have expenses associated with repacking. Planning for those situations will be important, she said.
Deloitte's Hann suggested the commission engage in an outreach to everyone who would be affected by the project to determine which broadcasters will cooperate and which will be reluctant.
Listen to an interview with Adrick in this Sound Off article.