Proper planning missing
Last December, I stressed that three years was insufficient for repacking implementation, given that we do not know how many stations will be required to move. I also pointed out that no repacking spectrum plan has been presented and reviewed by the engineering experts.
At the 2013 NAB Show, both repacking and the auction process were covered during the Broadcast Engineering and Management Conferences. Bill Meintel, of Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace, gave an excellent presentation on some of the issues, such as the changes to OET-69 and the spectrum planning that will have to go into the repack process.
When asked about the planning process, Meintel reminded the audience that each station affected by the spectrum changes would have to be modeled individually. There is no single answer on what channels will work. His estimate was that planning could take up to a year.
Keep in mind that we will not know how many stations will relinquish their licenses and where they are located until after the reverse auction is completed. The spectrum repacking planning can’t begin with any credibility until we know the above information. If that takes a year, then we only have two years remaining in the allocated time to actually do the repack. That is certainly insufficient time if there are more than about 288 stations forced to relocate.
Both the Commission and the wireless industry seem to be in a rush to do all of the steps nearly simultaneously without proper time to plan as information become available. At a recent FCC LEARN Workshop on the 600MHz band plan, it became obvious that the 120MHz recovery of TV spectrum was wishful thinking at best. Most talk was around 84MHz, and some comments even indicated that less spectrum might be recovered.
Remember, this whole process is not just about adding spectrum for wireless services; it is also about putting funds into the U.S. Treasury. Original estimates were in the neighborhood of generating up to $28 billion from the spectrum auctions. Congress took a subset of that number and spent the money well before it was ever generated. Remember, too, every station that relinquishes spectrum is going to be compensated in the auction at some price that is at least equal to the value of the business in a sale, and every station that must move to a new channel will be reimbursed from a $1.75 billion fund set up by Congress. It is only after those expenses that the auction returns money to the treasury.
At the recent FCC LEARN Workshop, Harold Feld, Legal Director for Public Knowledge (an FCC watchdog group), reminded the Commission that unless sufficient stations participate and unless wireless entities are willing to pay prices for spectrum that are premium to past auctions, this whole process could end up costing the Treasury rather than adding funds to it.
—Jay C. Adrick is technology advisor, Harris Broadcast.