I can only imagine what broadcasters from around the world gathered at the FOBTV IBC 2014 session Sept.14 must have been thinking as Rick Kaplan, the NAB’s point man on the spectrum auction and repack described what the FCC is doing to build a pool of spectrum for auction to wireless companies.
Among the things they learned in the session:
- NAB expects 1,000 full power television stations to feel the effect of a repack –i.e. have to relocate, end up sharing a channel, or some other consequence of consolidating TV spectrum. As of June 30, 2014, the FCC’s count of broadcasters shows there were 1,782 commercial and public full-power TV stations in the United States. So, a little more than 56% of all full-power TV stations will endure some other consequence of the repack. It’s even worse if you just consider only the UHF channels –the place where the action is for the FCC. In that case, it’s almost 73%.
- The ATSC’s work can best be described in the words Agent Maxell Smart often said to Chief about various things. They “missed it by that much.” Not the technical development, but the timing. During the session Kaplan said that if the standard’s completion and the auction process line up in time, it will be by accident not design. He added that there is no desire on the part of the agency to wait for standard before moving forward.
- If the FCC succeeds with its auction and repack, a similar strategy may be coming their way one day soon as regulators see that the big squeeze on broadcast spectrum can produce big bucks.
As for me, when I had a chance to sit back in an auditorium for two and half hours and take all of this in –not simply report about small repack development or another- the insanity of this whole repack crashed down on me. Not only will FCC’s repack, if successful, be massively disruptive for broadcasters and –if the analog-to-digital conversion experience is a model- viewers, too, but also there’s no certainty that the agency will succeed.
Add to that the FCC’s inflexibility on timing, which makes syncing the auction and repack with the schedule for ATSC 3.0 highly unlikely and increases the odds of two back-to-back transitions, and the fact that there is at least some interest from wireless operators in the feasibility of offloading network-crushing video traffic to a future broadcast system, which undercuts the very reason for the auction and repack, and the whole thing seems simply absurd.