TV Interference/Repacking Webinars Planned For February

Posted on February 10th, 2014 by

In early January, the FCC promised a workshop/webinar on TV repacking in February to discuss some tweaks to software they hope to use during the repacking phase of the planned incentive auction that will repurpose some TV spectrum for broadband use.  In late January, the FCC’s Office of Engineering & Technology issued a public notice proposing an alternative broadcast/wireless interference methodology to maximize the amount of auctioned spectrum, and set a February 21st date for a webinar.  We now know that these two webinars will both be held on February 21st, with the repacking software webinar scheduled for 10 am to 12 noon, and the interference webinar scheduled for 1-3 pm (all times Eastern).

The FCC’s early January public notice provided additional technical details and a description of a “feasibility check” software function that could be used to rapidly determine whether a channel assignment is feasible during the reverse-bidding phase of the auction.  The “feasibility check” would only determine “whether a channel assignment is feasible for a set of stations, not that it represents the optimal channel assignment.”  The software is a shortcut of sorts to avoid time-consuming analysis to determine optimum channel assignments.  Broadcasters, including the NAB, have been  critical of the FCC’s efforts to enable a speedy auction at the expense of station owners and viewers, painting the “feasibility check” as harming the public interest.

The OET notice, by considering interference methodologies other than distance separation, once again raises the issue of how the FCC should define station coverage areas and just what percentage of viewers can receive interference.

Recent statements from the FCC’s new Chairman, Tom Wheeler, suggest that an incentive auction won’t be scheduled until mid-2015 at the earliest.  While a new DTV Table of Allotments would essentially be adopted “live” during the auction based upon software-driven analyses, the actual repacking process will likely take much longer than the FCC’s desired 18-month timeline suggested over a year ago.  Hundreds of stations may be required to change channels, and with limited tower crews and antenna manufacturers, plus a still unknown expense reimbursement process, repacking could become nightmarish.

The FCC has repeatedly expressed that it wishes to be transparent about the auction rules so broadcasters will be encouraged to participate.  The latest push on that front is the FCC’s plan to hold one-on-one sessions with broadcasters about the auction, though initial reports suggest that such discussions would be designed to encourage auction participation, rather than provide assurances to broadcasters who do not wish to participate.

In our view, thus far, the FCC has created more confusion and concern by incrementally releasing information or asking for input, often on matters not favorable to those broadcasters that do not wish to participate in the auction, and always with a “we hope this doesn’t scare you” disclaimer that any ultimate policies or rules are subject to Commission approval.

A report and order is expected this spring.