Pai: Repack Work ‘Ahead of Schedule’

FCC Chairman touts successful Phase 1
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GRAPEVINE, Texas—FCC Chairman Pai gave a progress report about the channel repack, touting “great progress” since work began in April 2017. He added that the transition—which involves channel and/or location changes for approximately 1,000 full-power and Class A television broadcasters and about 2,000 low-power and translator television stations—is “ahead of schedule.”

To accommodate the transformational impact of the Internet on video distribution, FCC rules should reflect today’s technological and competitive realities, says FCC commissioner Ajit Pai.

In remarks to the annual meeting of the National Association of Tower Erectors today, the chairman noted the abbreviated timetable for finishing the transition by July 2020 and the resulting pressure on tower companies.

“The limited availability of tower crews capable of doing this work was a big factor in our transition planning from the start,” he said. “We designed a phased transition schedule that allows both tower companies and equipment manufacturers to prioritize stations in early phases and to strategically allocate resources. We built in flexibility to make adjustments so that safety is never compromised.”

At the conclusion of Phase 1, which ended Nov. 30, 2018, 143 repacked stations had already moved off their pre-auction channels, approximately 53 more stations than the FCC had planned to be repacked by the end of Phase 1, according to Pai. More than 20 of the approximately 115 stations assigned to Phase 2, which ends April 12, 2019 have been moved to their new channel.

Pai said that a total of $2.75 billion (including an additional $1 billion authorized by Congress last year) is available to reimburse broadcasters for repack costs, with more than $350 million already approved for reimbursements.

The FCC chairman acknowledged the concerns tower companies have had about availability, weather and deadlines, especially in a period when wireless companies are moving forward with 5G deployments. He encouraged the companies to be proactive.

“Coordination with stations and equipment manufacturers will be key,” Pai said. “Working together, I’m optimistic that we can be as successful as we were in Phase 1 and stay on track to complete this work for full-power and Class A stations by July 2020."

Pai added that tower crews are also helping the recipients of the 600MHz spectrum sold off by broadcasters two years ago deploy new services, citing T-Mobile’s recent progress in this area.

“NATE members are also deploying infrastructure so that wireless carriers can put the licenses awarded to incentive auction winners to use,” he said. “This deployment is now a reality in many places and is underway in many others. For example, one carrier has already lit up service using 600 MHz spectrum in more than 1,500 cities and 37 states, including Puerto Rico. For many of your members, this is intense, ongoing work. For American consumers, this means new competition and opportunities to benefit from 5G.”

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