Equipment vendors say that the recent FCC ruling that clears up whether the commission will reimburse TV station owners for relocation expenses before or during the two-part spectrum auction process should mean broadcasters can move forward with engineering studies in advance of the spectrum repack. And those studies can also aid broadcasters in making ATSC 3.0 business decisions.
Reimbursement Clarity Ripples Through NAB
Timing is everything. An important FCC declaratory ruling regarding relocation expense reimbursement for broadcasters affected by the spectrum repack was released on the opening day of the 2016 NAB Show (April 18).
The FCC said it will reimburse TV station owners for relocation expenses before or during the two-part spectrum auction process, removing a significant obstacle to using that period to begin engineering studies needed to change channel assignments.
At a time when a new television standard is within reach, those engineering studies become even more important because they will also provide a foundation upon which to make business decisions about what services a broadcaster can offer in an ATSC 3.0 future.
“As I was walking down to a panel discussion [at the 2016 NAB Show] on whether the industry is ready for the repack, I got an email that the commission had just made this announcement,” says Rich Redmond, GatesAir chief product officer.
GatesAir is offering several new RF products at the NAB Show, including the Maxiva 10.8kW UAXT-12 and 14.4kW UAXT-16 air-cooled UHF transmitters.
“When someone brought it up during the panel the mood in the room was: ‘Great, we can now get a jump on some of these tower studies and a jump on some of the consulting [needed] to figure things out,” he says.
The FCC Declaratory Ruling, adopted April 15 but released on Monday, April 18, was made “to remove uncertainty regarding the eligibility of expenses incurred before and during the auction for reimbursement,” it says.
In it, the commission says it “interpret[s] the statutory reimbursement mandate to include ‘cost reasonably incurred’ before and during the auction that otherwise are eligible for reimbursement.”
The ruling cites a Nov. 9, 2015, inquiry from American Tower Corp. as well as similar inquiries from other parties seeking a statement from the FCC on whether an expense incurred prior to or during the auction that otherwise would qualify for reimbursement from the $1.75 billion Broadcast Relocation Fund authorized by Congress will be covered.
“I think we are going to see the momentum pick up [among broadcasters to prepare for a new channel assignment],” says Redmond.
Redmond points to broadcasters signing deals on the morning of April 19 at the NAB Show — little more than a day after the release of the FCC ruling — to buy transmitters as a piece of evidence that broadcasters may be ready to get moving.
While the TV spectrum repack and an ATSC 3.0 future are two separate matters facing television broadcasters, they are linked in the sense that decisions made today to prepare for the repack will have a significant bearing on the business opportunities available if and when the FCC authorizes OTA transmission using the next-generation standard.
With clarity on reimbursement, broadcasters and tower owners can begin having structural analyses done on existing towers to determine, for example, whether they can safely bear bigger, heavier VHF antennas. (The commission is offering broadcasters a financial incentive to leave the UHF band and move to VHF.)
However, moving to VHF will affect the types of services a broadcaster can successfully offer using the next-gen 3.0 standard.
“If your business model is, ‘I want to cover a bunch of cable headends; I want to reduce my energy costs as it relates to covering my footprint; and my service is targeting people at home with a fairly large fixed antenna,’ low-band V probably meets those [with ATSC 3.0],” Redmond says.
However, if a station wants to target mobile devices with 3.0 service, VHF isn’t a good choice.
“It’s kind of analogous to The Andy Griffith Show from years ago,” Redmond says. “Andy and Barney are in the police car, and the car has an antenna that goes from the rear bumper to the front bumper — a big whip antenna,” he says.
““Imagine your mobile device with an antenna that big to receive ch. 2 — probably not all that effective.”
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2016 news here.