Posts tagged ‘repacking’
The upcoming spectrum incentive auctions have been a closely monitored issue on this blog, and it was the topic of a recent speech given by NAB’s Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning Rick Kaplan, one of the top experts on spectrum policy. Earlier this week, Kaplan spoke at the Media Institute’s Communications Forum luncheon, focusing on key issues that need to be addressed before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moves forward with the auction.
Kaplan reaffirmed that broadcasters’ goal is to see the spectrum auction done right and with minimal impact on TV viewers so that stations can get on with the business of serving their local communities in traditional and innovative ways.
The FCC’s proposed spectrum incentive auction is the first of its kind, in which the government will offer some number of TV stations money in exchange for their spectrum (airwaves) licenses. In a process known as “repacking,” the TV stations that remain (those that do not want to go out of business) may be shuffled around by the FCC, as the government tries to free up large chunks of contiguous spectrum (airwaves) for wireless companies to use. This very complex process is what concerns TV broadcasters and viewers most. If not executed properly by the government, many TV viewers could be impacted and some will lose their free, local TV service.
In his speech, Kaplan noted the complex task that lies before the FCC, and pointed out some tough economic, engineering and policy questions that need to be addressed, such as:
- How will the FCC attract volunteers (stations that will turn in their spectrum licenses) and determine how much to pay them?
- How can we efficiently and effectively coordinate with Canada and Mexico (where U.S. airwaves overlap) to ensure that TV viewers in border states are not harmed?
- How is the FCC going to reimburse stations that are forced to move in the repacking phase and do so within their budget and the tight timeframe following the auction?
These questions are just a few that must be addressed by the FCC. If not carefully thought out and properly implemented, the spectrum auction will fail either because there will not be enough volunteers to give up spectrum or because the outcome of the auction could result in widespread harmful interference among both television and wireless services.
Kaplan also discussed some of the very challenging engineering questions the agency has yet to address. Most pressing is the FCC’s proposal to take different amounts of spectrum from TV broadcasters in different markets. Kaplan explained why this would lead to massive interference between broadcasters and wireless companies, potentially undermining the entire auction and leaving viewers in the dark.
To avoid this, Kaplan proposed four basic steps to maximize the likelihood of achieving useable and worthwhile nationwide bands of spectrum (airwaves) for the wireless industry:
- First, the FCC should lay out a number of nationwide repacking scenarios explaining how they could shuffle TV stations following the auction. This involves looking at a variety of options and focusing in particular on the more congested television markets.
- Second, from these scenarios the FCC can determine how many stations it needs to participate in the auction to achieve certain spectrum targets, and where those stations must be.
- Third, the FCC should estimate how much revenue it would, under each scenario, raise nationwide in a spectrum auction.
- And finally, the FCC should take its nationwide estimate and use those funds to ensure it entices volunteers in the markets where it really requires participants.
Kaplan ended his remarks by urging the FCC to work closely with all stakeholders in the auction process. To read Kaplan’s remarks in their entirety, please click here.
Broadcasters’ number one concern is for our TV viewers and ensuring that stations can continue to provide services – both traditional and new, such as mobile TV – for those who rely on free, local television.
The spectrum auction process is currently underway at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but many questions remain as to how the auctions will be conducted and how viewers will be affected.
To that end, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters – the association representing local TV stations and networks in Washington, D.C. – sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reiterating that the incentive auction could directly impact the growing number of Americans that rely exclusively on free, local television and future innovation in the broadcast band.
Television stations are advocating for a fully transparent process to ensure that the impact on their viewers is minimized. Once the auction is conducted, stations may be shuffled around to create a larger swath of spectrum for wireless companies to purchase. Broadcasters want to be sure as stations are moved (or, “repacked”) viewers continue to have access to their local stations and the amount of time stations must be off the air due to moving is kept to a minimum.
To learn more about these channel moves, see this Broadcast Engineering story entitled: Channel relocation could create ‘chaos’ without proper planning.
TV stations will continue to work closely with the FCC to ensure that the spectrum auction process follows the intent of Congress and that free, local television remains an indispensable service for the American people.
Americans love their TV, but some depend on it more than others. Minority groups – such as Africans Americans, Hispanics and Asians – rely on free, local TV that is accessible with an antenna. As the government looks at ways to address the nation’s spectrum needs, broadcasters believe we must ensure these groups are not negatively impacted.
Just yesterday the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) sponsored a summit where broadcasters had the opportunity to discuss how to be sure minority groups are protected as the government discusses changes to the television spectrum.
Chris Ornelas, chief operating and strategy officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, participated in the panel “Spectrum Reallocation: How Will The National Broadband Plan’s Goals Be Realized?,” along with James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and representatives from the wireless, telecom and cable industries.
Ornelas, who is of Hispanic and Asian descent, pointed out that approximately 15 percent of Americans get their TV exclusively from free, over-the-air broadcast and an even greater percentage of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino viewers depend solely on free television via antenna. Because minority audiences rely heavily on broadcast television, it’s important that any development in spectrum reallocation protects those audiences and the services they currently enjoy and rely on for important news and emergency information.
Read more about the panel discussion here:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not yet released details or analysis of how a spectrum incentive auction would be conducted, and more importantly, how a subsequent repacking of the TV band would affect local stations.
Without certain viewer protections, if, after an incentive auction, the FCC tried to recapture the 20 television channels called for in its National Broadband Plan, service disruption, confusion and inconvenience for local television viewers could dwarf the viewer impact of the 2009 digital television (DTV) transition. For instance:
- Seventy-three stations in the top 10 markets would be forced off the air;
- More than half of all TV stations would likely need to disrupt service for millions of viewers from anywhere of a few hours up to a few weeks to accommodate repositioning of those TV channels “repacked” into a lower channel assignment;
- Americans living in cities along the Canadian border would bear extra burdens because of international treaty obligations designed to minimize interference between Canadian and U.S. cities.
In fact, under the stated goals of the National Broadband Plan all Detroit TV stations could go dark. Other border cities that could face severe disruptions and loss of service include Buffalo, Seattle, Syracuse, Cleveland, Spokane, Rochester and Watertown, N.Y., and Flint, Mich.
With the potential for such significant viewer disruption during a repacking process, it is imperative that the protections TV stations and viewers are seeking are included in any legislation authorizing spectrum incentive authority.
August might be the hottest month of the year, but this fall things are likely to heat up even more in Washington, D.C., as Congress considers spectrum legislation and the incentive auctions that are sure to follow. [For a little background on incentive auctions, see “What’s an incentive auction (and why should I care)?"]
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) does not oppose spectrum incentive auctions, but wants to ensure that local TV viewers are not harmed by any subsequent actions that may limit TV’s ability to innovate or jeopardize the local news, emergency information and high-quality programming viewers value and expect from free local TV.
NAB believes there are four key principles that must be included in any voluntary incentive auction legislation to protect both television viewers and broadcasters:
- Preserve viewers’ access to broadcast signals. The FCC must be directed to replicate existing station service areas and covered populations in the event of relocating TV channels (also known as repacking) within the TV band.
- Enable TV broadcasters to continue to innovate and offer new services to viewers. There is a concern the FCC could involuntarily move stations from the UHF to the VHF band, which would disrupt channels and hamper broadcasters’ ability to deliver innovative new services for viewers.
- Allow only one truly voluntary incentive auction. Multiple auctions could mean multiple disruptions across the channels.
- Reimburse stations for costs associated with relocating to a new channel.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith discussed each of these in detail during a recent congressional hearing. Review his testimony for additional information about these four critical principles.
There is another term in the spectrum reallocation discussion you will often hear in addition to incentive auctions and that term is “repacking.”
Simply, repacking is the forced relocation of TV stations to different channels by the federal government.
In discussions before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed that all channels in a certain area of the TV band would either be moved or would go away altogether so those channels could be auctioned off to big companies for different uses.
Repacking would have an enormous impact on both TV stations and viewers:
- 672 full power TV stations would either be completely cleared.
- A minimum of 210 full power stations must go off-the-air permanently.
- Stations located in a certain area of the TV band (known as channels 31-51) that elect to stay in business will have to be relocated to lower channels.
- Stations located in the other channels (known as channels 2-30) may have to move due to repacking to accommodate the displaced stations moving in.
- 800 to 1,200 full power stations will likely be required to change channels.
- Some channels during the transition might go dark while technical issues are being sorted out – with zero programming available – for weeks.
Repacking will be highly disruptive for viewers, which is why the National Association of Broadcasters, while supporting incentive auctions, wants the auctions to be truly voluntary, and not forced onto TV stations and their viewers.