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FCC Issues Another BAS Relocation Extension

(March 3, 2009) WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission has extended the deadline for Sprint Nextel’s BAS transition by 45 days. Broadcasters and the wireless carrier had previously asked to have the current March 5 deadline extended by another 11 months, to Feb. 7, 2010.

The additional 45 days will give the commission time to cogitate whether or not another one-year extension is in order.

Sprint Nextel was charged with moving broadcast auxiliary service operations after it was allotted some of the spectrum those operations occupied. The carrier was just Nextel at the time, and the intention was to get it out of the 800 MHz band where cell phone calls were interfering with public safety communications, and vice versa.

Nextel swapped its 800 MHz for space in the 2 GHz band then occupied by television station newsgathering transmissions. As part of the deal, it agreed to retune and replace the newsgathering equipment of bumped broadcasters. The original deadline for the project was September 2007, but the job proved to be too ungainly to complete by then.

Some gear was cobbled together and difficult to replace one-to-one, as the federal framework required. Microwave equipment was sometimes so remote and so rarely accessed that personnel had forgotten where it was.

Broadcasters weren’t keen on beginning the process, as well. They were smack in the middle of preparing for the digital transition, and the capital squeeze had already begun. Few had the resources to do the kind of analysis and paperwork necessary to have their entire newsgathering operations retooled. Many also needed to factor in upgrades to HD technology, for which Sprint Nextel was not required to pay.

The FCC consequently moved the deadline to this Thursday.

Blizzards, wildfires and a desire not to disrupt the 2008 presidential race have caused further delays, motivating the carrier and the broadcast lobbies to petition for another one-year extension. Comments are due on Docket No. 02-55 March 9; replay comments, March 19.