Estimates of the cost of the TV band repack following the FCC’s incentive auction next year range from $250 million to $1.25 billion more than the $1.75 billion the government has set aside.
The $1.75 billion set aside by the government to pay the expenses of TV broadcasters forced to change channels because of the FCC’s upcoming spectrum repack will fall short by as much as $1.25 billion, according to an estimate given during a spectrum auction and repack presentation at the NAB Show.
While the figure is simply an approximation based on FCC simulations of the channel repack and other factors, it underscores the seriousness of the problems that will soon face broadcasters and the agency as it advances its effort to free up TV spectrum for wireless service companies.
During the “TV Spectrum Auction & Repack Update” — part of the NAB Show Broadcast Engineering Conference program, April 13, Ari Meltzer, an attorney with Wiley Rein, a Washington law firm, and GatesAir technology adviser Jay Adrick, tag teamed the topics of the incentive auction and spectrum repack. Both presentations revealed storm clouds ahead.
“The numbers [to pay the cost of moving broadcasters to new channel assignments] exceed $1.75 billion by a fairly significant amount,” Adrick said.
On the high side, the shortfall in the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund will be between $1 billion and $1.25 billion based on about 1,200 of the nation’s 1,600 Class A and full-power UHF stations being required to repack to achieve the upper target of 120 MHz of cleared spectrum, said Adrick.
If the FCC simply reclaims 84 MHz of TV spectrum, its lower target, the relocation fund will fall short by about $250 million, he added.
A related problem is some of the stations not reassigned to a new channel will still be required to replace expensive antennas and other RF components because they are co-located on TV towers with stations that will move to a new channel assignment.
As the law setting up the relocation fund is written, these stations will not be eligible to draw on the relocation fund, Adrick said.
Adrick also laid out the problem posed by the limited number of tower crews, RF engineering consultants and other experts needed to pull off this elaborate game of high-tech musical chairs.
Meltzer methodically walked through the different steps of the forward and reverse auctions. During his talk, Meltzer pointed out that the impact of the auctions in certain markets will be significant.
“What these [the FCC simulations] also show is there are 35 markets where more than half of the UHF stations will have to be bought up if the FCC is going to reach its clearing goal,” Meltzer said.