The NAB has told the FCC that the commission’s 39-month schedule for completing the realignment of television stations following the spectrum incentive auction is a risky proposition and it should reconsider pushing back that deadline.
In comments filed Oct. 28, the group said that “the commission’s proposal for adopting a schedule is a productive and critical step in the development of a successful transition plan. The commission has clearly devoted significant time and energy to understanding and seeking to untangle daisy chains of interdependent stations. Assigning broadcasters to staggered phases for construction is a reasonable approach to spreading out work to attempt to avoid bottlenecks in the vendor and service provider supply chain. With certain modifications, the proposal can serve as a roadmap to an efficient repack that appropriately balances the interests of affected stakeholders.”
However, it added: “Unfortunately, while there is much promise in the proposed scheduling plan, the commission’s continued insistence that the transition can be completed in 39 months has painted the commission into a succession of unnecessary corners that ultimately threaten the transition’s viability.”
The 39-month deadline, NAB said, “has compelled the commission to establish a three-month period for stations to submit construction permit applications and cost estimates. This will lead to rushed, potentially incomplete applications that will inevitably need to be amended. The 39-month deadline has also led to the development of a scheduling plan that will involve assigning stations to construction phases before the commission or the stations themselves even know the scope of work involved with their transition. This will create inefficiencies and conflicts at the outset.
“Finally, the need to develop a scheduling plan that gives the appearance of achievability within the commission’s artificial 39-month deadline has forced the commission to make unrealistic modeling assumptions that will likely be invalidated in practice.”
NAB went on to say that the commission’s transition plan must be “flexible and agile” to allow it to be adjusted to respond to “real-world developments.” Accordingly, it said: “It would be most efficient for the commission to wait until stations have completed necessary structural and engineering studies before assigning stations to phases. If the commission chooses to make assignments of stations to phases on a preliminary basis prior to the close of the auction, NAB urges the commission to make this process dynamic and flexible, and to re-evaluate phase assignments once stations have submitted construction permit applications and cost estimates and it is clearer what will actually be required for repacked stations to move to their new channels.”
NAB also urged the FCC to “take a proactive role in facilitating the exchange of information between stations during the transition.” And it asked that stations be allowed “to work together to come up with creative solutions to speed the transition and minimize the impact on viewers. The commission should be open to voluntary arrangements between stations to manage difficult transitions.”
The FCC, it said, “could provide certainty with respect to the rights that stations would maintain in … voluntary channel sharing by promptly concluding its outstanding proceeding regarding post-incentive auction channel sharing arrangements.”
Going forward, the NAB concluded, the commission “will need to monitor the transition, facilitate the exchange of information between affected stations, resolve disputes as needed and provide stations with as much flexibility as possible to continue to serve their viewers. It will also need to plan now for how it will address inevitable delays and potential complications from uncompleted Canadian and Mexican transitions.