OTA proposes transitional channel sharing to speed post-auction transition

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OTA Broadcasting has suggested the FCC allow for voluntary transitional channel sharing to allow broadcasters to vacate their channels faster following the conclusion of the incentive auctions.

In an FCC filing, the independent station owner said channel sharing would allow broadcasters to jump out of their pre-auction channels at “any point in the transition process without disrupting their operations or placing their licenses at risk.”

OTA said its proposal would provide broadcast television stations with the opportunity to voluntarily extend the time they have to build their permanent post-auction facilities; provide broadcast television stations with the opportunity to voluntarily sync their post-auction transition with their conversion to ATSC 3.0—all while expediting the clearing of 600 MHz spectrum; and provide winning forward auction bidders with the opportunity to obtain early access to 600 MHz spectrum, if they desire.

As of now, the FCC will be allowing 39 months for broadcasters to transition to their new channels following the end of the auction, while allocating $1.75 billion in funds to assist broadcasters with the switch over. Both the time frame and the funding amount have been viewed as inadequate by many in the broadcast TV industry.

RELATED: FCC sets 108 MHz clearing target for Stage 3

“If the FCC is serious about repacking as many as 1,300 broadcasters, anyone who has any understanding of the broadcast industry knows that it is impossible to accomplish that task in such a short period of time,” wrote Patrick McFadden, assistant general counsel to the National Association of Broadcasters, in a blog post earlier this year.

OTA seems to share this view and uses it to paint a dire view of the post-auction channel repack should the 39 months prove too short of a time frame.

“The Commission, broadcasters, and wireless carriers should all be concerned that a delay in the transition of some stations can disrupt the orderly transition process, potentially forcing some stations off the air before their post-auction broadcast facilities are complete or leaving the agency with no choice but to extend the transition deadline, denying wireless carriers and their customers the benefits of a reallocation of spectrum that by then will be almost a decade in the making,” wrote OTA. “On the other hand, if certain stations vacate their channels before their assigned phase completion date, wireless providers can potentially deploy services and take advantage of additional ‘beachfront’ spectrum even before the transition is complete.”

OTA is calling on the FCC to permit any broadcaster assigned to a new channel in the post-auction optimization to enter into a voluntary transitional channel sharing agreement; automatically extend the construction deadline for the post-auction facilities of any station that implements a voluntary temporary channel sharing agreement before its phase completion date; and commit to work with station owners and other interested parties to identify "bottleneck stations" that could expedite the transition by vacating their pre-auction channels in advance of their phase completion date.

OTA’s pitch to the FCC comes as the Nov. 1 start date for Stage 3 of the incentive auction looms. The new spectrum clearing target is set at 108 MHz, a scaled down goal set after Stage 2 of the auction ended after only one round when bidders offered less than half of the $54.6 billion clearing cost.