Gaining momentum

On Sept. 7, the very day the Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) relocation was mandated to be completed, the FCC waived the deadline it had imposed 31.5 months earlier on Sprint Nextel and BAS licensees to relocate BAS Channels 1-7.

Under the original plan, Sprint Nextel and BAS licensees were given a little more than two-and-a-half years to replace existing analog microwave radios, antennas and related equipment with new digital gear and relocate the seven channels to a swatch of spectrum from 2031.5MHz to 2103.5MHz, divvied up in 12MHz wide increments.

Three days before the waiver was granted, the company — along with NAB, MSTV and SBE — jointly petitioned the commission to extend the Sept. 7 deadline for 29 months. In issuing the waiver, the commission set a new deadline of Nov. 6, giving itself 60 days to consider the petition.

The man ultimately responsible for the success of the project is Mike Degitz, Sprint Nextel VP of spectrum development.

Q: Where does the 2GHz relocation project stand?

Mike Degitz: We've turned the corner. We're getting beyond the contracts and negotiation phase, and we are entering the installation phase. There's a lot of equipment out there being installed right now and a lot of lessons being learned. There have been some challenges learning the nuances of the new equipment, but it's all getting figured out, and that's going to be lessons learned. Hopefully, things are going to pick up from here.

Q: What were the major obstacles that prevented the project from being completed on time?

Mike Degitz: This whole project is just larger than anyone ever imagined. It's the complexity of everything involved here — the fact that you have equipment that's been out there for 30 years. Usually it's not just one chief engineer who installed it, but several chief engineers.

To figure out exactly what they have and design a system to replace it takes a lot of effort on both the station's part and the manufacturer's part. Then that has to be put into a contractual form. It just took a long time to get this work together.

Q: Wasn't one of the concerns over income tax liability?

Mike Degitz: There were a couple of biggies. The income tax issue was one. One of the groups got a private letter ruling from the IRS that stated that this is a tax-free transaction, so the stations are not liable for income tax on this.

The other big issue was getting a standard contract written that the majority of the broadcasters could agree to. It took a long time to hammer out. Everybody's got different interests, and to get everybody on the same page took a long time. That was probably the biggest logjam, and then the tax issue. Once that got resolved, things started moving.

Q: How does this relocation effort compare with others?

Mike Degitz: Sprint Nextel has done other relocations, but it's mainly been involved with private radio networks. Now we're working on the 800MHz relocation, which is just as big as this one. It's much different though in that the amount of equipment that's being exchanged is not the large systems as with the BAS relocation. It's individual pieces in the system — the handsets primarily. So it's a little different scope. Money-wise, it's a larger project, but in terms of complexity, it's not as complex.

That's one of the problems we've had. No one's ever done this before.

2GHz BAS relocation status. Courtesy Sprint Nextel. Phase* March 2007 September 2007 Percentage increase 1a. Markets kicked off by Sprint Nextel 100% 100% Complete 1b. BAS stations engaged in transition 100% 100% Complete 2. Inventories submitted by broadcasters 99% 100% Complete 3. Inventories verified and agreed by Sprint Nextel 80% 99% +24% 4. Quote packages submitted by broadcasters 35% 66% +78% 5a. Quote packages approved by Sprint Nextel 30% 61% +103% 5b. Frequency relocation agreements signed 22% 48% +118% 6a. Purchase orders submitted by broadcasters 17% 41% +141% 6b. Purchase orders fulfilled by manufacturers 5% 15% +200% 7. Equipment installed by installers 2% 8% +300%