McAdams On: Repacking, Catch 22
July 10, 2012
There is only one
catch in the legislation
of the broadcast
TV spectrum: Questioning the impact on
broadcasting is a process of a rational mind.
Not doing is crazy. The industry would face
a disastrous channel repacking. However,
because the relevant questions cannot be
answered until after the auction, the industry
faces a disastrous channel repacking.
Congress has outdone itself.
The esteemed body directed the FCC to
sell off TV channels in a way that an outcome
cannot be anticipated, because sellers can
participate secretly. There is no way to
know how many stations, in which markets,
may move, share channels or drop out all
The next repack is shaping up to
make the 2009 digital transition look like
second-grade math. It was clear then that
all broadcasters in Chs. 52-69 would get
packed into 2-51. This time around, the
Administration wants to give Chs. 31-51 to
wireless carriers, but broadcasters don’t
have to give up spectrum. Relinquishment is
voluntary. Congress doesn’t force bad ideas
in an election year.
What it did instead was slap a three-year
deadline on the repacking, which cannot be
modeled accurately until after the auction
is held, (and could explain why the FCC has
refused to release its own model—because it
doesn’t have one!)
Of course, modeling can be done with
known and projected numbers. Take these,
from Jay Adrick of Harris, who offered them
at an FCC repacking workshop in June.
Adrick said a total of 14 tower crews have
the capability to swap out TV transmission
antennas on tall structures. The average time
required for the job is five weeks, he said.
So if 500 broadcasters have to swap out
antennas, each of those crews would have
to work every day for nearly three-and-a-half
years to get it done.
Could it be that the law is crazy?