It’s ‘absurd’ broadcasters could be forced off air by channel repack, NAB says

Above: A LiveU broadcast during NAB 2016. Guidelines for the broadcast spectrum auction could end up costing stations "hundreds of thousands of dollars," NAB's Dennis Wharton said. Image: FierceOnlineVideo / Samantha Bookman

With the FCC’s broadcast incentive auctions officially in the books, the extensive channel repacking process begins. But the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) warns changes are needed to avoid broadcasters being forced off the air.

Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of media relations for the NAB, said the timeline and budget conditions placed on the repacking process for TV broadcasters moving their signals to new channels following the auctions, is “ambitious to say the least.

“Right now as written, if we’re not done in 39 months, any TV station which has not made the transition has to turn in its license and go out of business. I think that’s just absurd in terms of the impact on consumers,” Wharton told FierceBroadcasting.

Wharton said that the auction began with the premise that it was voluntary for broadcasters to participate and that the guidelines put in place could serve to punish broadcasters for opting in.

“These are forced moves by the government and to think that just for the privilege of staying in the business of broadcasting, that we might have to pay out of pocket maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars on an individual station level, it seems a little unfair,” Wharton said.

Wharton seemed confident though that scenario wouldn’t ultimately play out but said that legislation or regulatory revision in order to ensure it doesn’t.

“We think that this Commission will be a little more sympathetic to our arguments,” he said. In particular, he hopes the FCC will be more flexible on the 39-month repack timeline and the $1.75 billion limit placed on the compensation fund for broadcasters moving their signals.

RELATED: As incentive auction ends, carriers push for quick access to 600 MHz spectrum

The incentive auctions began more than one year ago after several delays. On March 30, the auctions officially came to a close, with bidders committing more than $19.63 billion. The names of the winning bidders will likely be released by the FCC in the coming weeks.

But now the battle over the channel repack process begins in earnest. The NAB and many other broadcast industry groups and interested companies have been busy pushing the FCC to reconsider the time and budgetary constraints placed on the repack.

But mobile operators like T-Mobile and wireless industry groups like the Competitive Carriers Association have urged the FCC to stick to the timeline in order to free up the spectrum for mobile service deployments as soon as possible.

In a recent FCC filing, the CCA called the NAB’s most recent objection to the repack rules a “regurgitated challenge” “…that comes almost 1,000 days after the statutory 30-day deadline for bringing a petition to challenge the 39- month deadline.”

CCA argued that it’s vital the 600 MHz airwaves freed up during the auctions be cleared quickly for mobile deployments.

“Introducing delay and uncertainty will have an adverse impact on deployment of rural broadband services, jobs, education, healthcare, and the ability of the United States to compete in a global economy,” the CCA wrote.