FCC Allows Early Repack in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Stations can move to their post-auction channel assignments early to assist the islands rebuild from hurricane devastation
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Stations can move to their post-auction channel assignments early to assist the islands rebuild from hurricane devastation

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 11 granted a request from 20 TV stations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to accelerate the timetable for construction of their post-repack channel assignment.

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“The Commission has made it a top priority to assist with the recovery from last year’s devastating hurricanes,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a press release announcing the decision of the agency’s Incentive Auction Task Force and Media Bureau. Failure to grant the request would have left broadcasters suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma and Maria with two bad choices, said Pai.

Either they would have to rebuild their transmission facilities on their existing channel assignment only to have to build again for their post-auction assignment in a couple of years, or they would have stayed dark for an extended period, he said. “Now, stations are no longer confronting that choice because they’ll be able to use their post-auction channel more quickly,” he said in the release.

Another benefit is affected broadcasters will now have access to the TV Broadcaster Reimbursement Fund to pay for the portion of the rebuild that’s attributable to the channel reassignment, he added.

The agency released the press announcement in conjunction with a Public Notice of the task force and bureau’s decision. According to the notice, all but two of the stations affected by the hurricane were assigned to transition Phase 3, due to be completed June 21, 2019. The others were assigned to Phase 10, which is scheduled for completion on July 3, 2020.

In requesting the timetable acceleration, the stations asserted moving the transition deadline forward would not divert resources away for other stations currently transitioning. In support of that position, antenna manufacturer and installer, Electronics Research Inc. (ERI) filed a letter with the agency confirming it could support the stations’ early transition without impacting its support of other transitioning stations.

The stations also noted in their request that moving to their new channel assignments early would enable wireless broadband providers to deploy their services on the islands ahead of schedule and thus help to alleviate the desperate need for wireless broadband. T-Mobile submitted a letter to the agency in favor of the request and said that granting it would help with rapid deployment of new 600MHz wireless broadband.

“Based on the record, including the letters of support filed by ERI and T-Mobile, we find that an early transition is unlikely to impact other transitioning stations’ access to resources and will provide additional public interest benefits by expediting the deployment of new 600MHz wireless broadband services,” the notice said.

For more information on the repack, visit TV Technology's repack silo.