“Be Prepared” might be the motto of the Boy Scouts, but according to Bill Godfrey, a consulting engineer with Kessler & Gehman Associates, a Gainesville, FL-based telecommunications engineering and consulting firm, those words are equally appropriate for all full-power and Class A television stations as the FCC moves forward with its incentive auction and spectrum repacking.
Godfrey, who presented a paper at the 2013 NAB Show on how the repack will affect stations, says so much uncertainty exists about the spectrum auctions and how the actual repacking of TV spectrum will play out that broadcasters don’t know how to protect themselves right now.
“A lot of people think, they just have to wait and see what the final rulemaking will be and then get started. But by then it could be too late,” he says.
Kessler & Gehman has developed a three-phase approach to assist stations as they transition from the pre-auction period to a new table of allotments that will determine their channel assignments following the repack. But regardless of whether television broadcasters choose to work with Kessler & Gehman, some other RF consultant or go it alone, Godfrey insists it is essential they take steps now to protect themselves and ensure they are pleased with how the repack turns out.
“Congress has mandated that the FCC make all reasonable efforts to maintain coverage and population for each station so that when the repacking does happen they won’t lose any of their population or service area, and if they do it will be very minimal.
“But the thing is, how will they know if the FCC has truly replicated the population without taking the steps we are recommending before the repack?” he asks.
For the pre-auction phase, the Kessler & Gehman checklist includes as many as 50 steps that a station should take to prepare. Among them, Godfrey says are:
- Doing a Longley-Rice interference coverage map of the existing facility based on the Feb. 22, 2012, FCC database. This is the baseline the commission must use to ensure coverage and population are replicated to the highest reasonable degree post repack.
- Knowing and documenting field strength within a station’s service area. A station may have taken steps to ensure an important area within its service area has a high field strength level, perhaps 110dBu. But following the repack the field strength in that particular area may have dropped dramatically, perhaps to 70dBu. Having the pre-repack field strength documented will be essential to proving to the FCC that it must take steps to correct the situation following the repack.
Several factors complicate these and other steps that are part of the pre-auction phase, says Godfrey. One is whether the 2000 or the 2010 U.S. Census is used to determine replication of coverage and population. Another is whether the original FCC OET-69 Bulletin is used or rather the new software the agency’s Office of Engineering & Technology is proposing is employed, he adds. Such complicating factors make it necessary to run multiple reports, each accounting for the impact of various population and coverage permutations.
In phase two of the process, which takes place during the auction, Kessler & Gehman is recommending playing out a variety of “what if” scenarios to guide stations as they consider their options and decide whether to enter the auction. With so many stations and such a variety of options, ranging from going to VHF, choosing to go off air or selecting a channel-sharing arrangement, it is important to consider all of the possible effects on a given station.
According to Godfrey, some of the questions to consider during this part of the process include:
- What possible channels could nearby stations be moved to?
- How much additional interference will be created?
- Where will the interference areas be?
- Where will the new population be?
The final phase of the process, Godfrey says, includes having a plan in place for when the repack actually occurs so that the initial studies can be run again to ensure population and coverage actually have been maintained.
For Godfrey, the bottom line is leaving nothing to chance by preparing now and taking the steps necessary during the process to protect coverage and population. “There are so many unknowns that if there are any question marks you take away by doing the studies, even if some of those studies ultimately are not used,” he says.