Last Friday, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) asked the FCC to reconsider aspects of the agency’s plan for repacking broadcast television channels during the 39-month post-incentive auction transition period. According the NAB, the transition schedule announced by the FCC in January “does not appear to acknowledge the reality that the repack will present the most challenging transition the Commission has ever overseen.”
The NAB filed its petition in the midst of the ongoing incentive auction assignment phase. Wireless carriers that won rights to surrendered broadcast spectrum are currently competing in the assignment phase for specific frequency blocks covering the markets they won. Two-to-three weeks after the conclusion of the assignment auction on March 30, the FCC is expected to issue a public notice announcing winning bidders in the reverse and forward auctions, markets won, final bid prices, and the deadline for the submission of long-form license applications by forward auction winners. That public notice will also trigger the start of the 39-month period during which broadcasters that opt to remain on the air will be required to transition to new channel assignments.
In its petition, the NAB claimed that the FCC, in issuing the repacking plan on January 27, “has made a number of decisions that will make its job, and the job of the industry, considerably harder.” Highlighting what it termed as the FCC’s “unconstrained approach to repacking,” the NAB argued that the repacking plan outlined by the FCC in January and mandated in previous, related decisions “will result in the repack taking longer, and causing considerably more viewer disruption, than might otherwise have been necessary.”
Emphasizing, nevertheless, that the FCC still has a “narrow window of opportunity to make corrections,” the NAB urged the FCC to consider “a cooperative, productive approach that will ensure the repack proceeds as quickly and smoothly as possible.” Along that vein, the NAB recommended that the FCC (1) grant “reasonable” requests filed by broadcasters seeking extensions of time to complete the repacking process, (2) adjust repack phase assignments to conform with the cost and scope of work needed, (3) delay phase assignments to account for the transition’s impact on FM radio facilities co-located on television transmission towers, and (4) engage with broadcasters on a regional basis so the Commission can “understand the work required in every region and the challenges individual broadcasters face.” As it cited the results of a recent TV station survey in which 68% of 576 respondents confirmed plans to move to new channels, the NAB advised the FCC: “the repack will ultimately proceed much more smoothly if it is dynamic and agile and subject to real-time adjustments as circumstances develop and change.” FCC and wireless industry officials offered no comment.