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Sprint Nextel Says More Time Needed for BAS Transition

Sprint Nextel is required to provide yearly updates on the status of the 2 GHz broadcast auxiliary service transition to narrower channels using digital modulation. In its latest BAS Relocation Status Report the company said that "the BAS transition is immensely complicated." Twenty-four months into the 31.5 months that the FCC allowed for the transition, Sprint Nextel said, "After consultation with its BAS equipment vendors, integrators, contractors, satellite operators and the broadcast community, Sprint Nextel anticipates requiring an additional 12 to 24 months to complete the BAS transition."

The status report spans 44 pages, many of them devoted to explaining just how complex and huge the transition is. Stations that have diligently filled out the Sprint Nextel inventories and equipment orders will appreciate the observation that, "At roughly 50 pages per FRA (counting the typical two amendments) and 1,000 licensees to transition, Sprint Nextel and the BAS industry collectively will produce roughly 50,000 pages of FRAs--or, stated differently, a stack of legal documents roughly two stories high."

The transition has been complicated by broadcaster concerns over tax liabilities related to the equipment exchange and international coordination.

"Industry Canada appears to have taken the position that relocating a BAS station from the old BAS channel plan to the new BAS channel plan constitutes a 'new' frequency use, and therefore requires both notice to and approval by Canadian regulatory authorities," the report said. "This significantly complicates BAS relocation along the Canadian border and could potentially cause substantial delays beyond the control of the broadcast industry and Sprint Nextel."

Sprint Nextel has spent more than $186 million pre-stocking orders to meet the demand. These orders have resulted in an inventory of more than 12,000 pieces of replacement equipment, including more than 6,000 transmitters and receivers, more than 4,000 controllers and nearly 2,000 antennas and antenna upgrades, according to the report. Sprint Nextel attached statements from manufacturers and an integrator to the report. Nucomm almost doubled the size of its workforce to 110 employees, expanded the square footage of its production facilities by 50 percent and increased its inventory of BAS equipment by "tens of millions of dollars."

Rather than cite more examples, I'll refer readers to the BAS Relocation Status Report. If the link doesn't work, you can find the report as well as other comments on the BAS transition using the FCC's Search for Filed Comments tool on ECFS. Enter 02-55 in box 1, "Proceeding." If you review the comments, you may see one from Fox Television Stations arguing that a 2 GHz BAS license should not be required to participate in the Sprint Nextel funded transition, noting broadcasters can operate 2 GHz equipment for up to 720 hours per year without a license under Section 74.24 of the FCC rules. As a result, Fox notes, "many broadcasters operating lawfully under Section 74.24 face the obsolescence of their 2 GHz BAS equipment, much of which is used for critical newsgathering purposes." Fox said Sprint Nextel believes it is not required to relocate these unlicensed, short-term BAS operations.

The 2 GHz BAS transition will soon be complicated by the entry of mobile satellite service (MSS) operators into the 2 GHz BAS channels being vacated by broadcasters. The FCC requirements for MSS operators to relocate 2 GHz BAS operations are not as friendly to broadcasters. If Sprint Nextel is not allowed to complete the 2 GHz transition in all markets, it's possible the MSS operators may be able to avoid covering the cost of relocating the remaining BAS operations, especially in smaller markets. One of the attachments to the report is testimony from Christopher Scherer, president of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. Scherer provides data supporting Sprint Nextel's assertion that the transition is more complex than they originally thought. While it doesn't mention the need for an additional 12 to 24 months to complete the transition, SBE's testimony provides the backup needed to support an extension of the BAS DTV transition deadline.