An executive of a media firm testifying on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) informed panelists at a Senate hearing yesterday that both the FCC’s 39-month timetable for completing the post-incentive auction channel repacking process and the $1.75 billion in funds earmarked by Congress to cover broadcast station relocation costs may not be enough to guarantee the successful transition of affected broadcasters to new channels. Meanwhile, as he maintained that the wireless industry remains committed to working with broadcasters to ensure a smooth transition, Scott Bergman, the vice president of regulatory affairs for wireless association CTIA, countered: “we have confidence the FCC will be able to stick to its 39-month schedule.”
Pat LaPlatney, the president and CEO of Raycom Media, was featured at yesterday’s Senate Communications Subcommittee hearing alongside Bergman and other witnesses from the satellite, Internet and technology sectors. In addition to covering issues that impact the post-incentive auction transition, yesterday’s hearing on spectrum policy also focused on preparations for upcoming fifth-generation (5G) wireless services and on ways in which the federal government can free up additional spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed wireless operations in the 5G environment of the future.
As ranking subcommittee member Brian Schatz (D-HI) voiced concern that television viewers could lose access to local news and other programming if the post-incentive auction repacking process is not accomplished efficiently, LaPlatney acknowledged these concerns in stating that his company alone would have to move 22 stations with frequency transitions in some markets that require placing “an antenna weighing potentially thousands of pounds more on an existing tower.” Asked by new subcommittee member Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) whether radio stations could also be affected by the TV station repacking process, LaPlatney replied in the affirmative, noting that some radio stations co-located on TV transmission towers might have to be powered down for hours or days to accommodate mast removals or new mast placements.
Estimating that as many as 1,100 TV stations nationwide will be affected by the repacking process, LaPlatney called for continued Congressional oversight as he told the panel he had doubts as to whether the time and money allocated for that process will be sufficient. Nevertheless, as LaPlatney assured lawmakers that broadcasters will do everything in their power to finish the job in a timely manner, Bergman reiterated the importance of broadcast industry adherence to the 39- month transition schedule. Testifying that CTIA members have invested more than $300 billion in network deployment over the past decade and that wireless carriers stand ready “to invest another $275 billion to deliver 5G networks that will be faster, more responsive and connect more devices,” Bergman told lawmakers that even the 39-month transition period prescribed by the FCC represents “an eternity” to wait.