FCC Releases TV Station Repack Public Notices

The FCC has released three public notices related to the repacking of broadcast television stations into a smaller UHF band once the incentive auction has closed.

  • In the Television Repack Scheduling Plan Public Notice, the FCC seeks comment on the FCC’s proposed post-incentive auction transition organization and scheduling plan. Among other things, the Public Notice is proposing a “phased” transition schedule to establish construction deadlines within the 39-month post-auction transition period for the repacking process. Comments on the proposed repack plans are due by October 31, 2016, and reply comments are due by November 15, 2016.
  • The FCC has also released a separate, but related Cost Catalog Public Notice, seeking comment on updates to the itemized Cost Catalog of potential expenses and estimated costs for reimbursement items television stations can claim from the $1.75 billion “TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.” From this fund, television stations may be reimbursed for expenses they reasonably incur in connection with the required station repack. Comments on the proposed revisions to the catalog items are due by November 14, 2016, and reply comments are due by November 29, 2016.
  • Finally, in anticipation of the repack, the FCC has issued a Contact Information Public Notice to remind all broadcast television licensees to ensure that their contact information on file with the FCC is current and accurate so that the Commission can properly contact licensees directly regarding station repack channel reassignments.

Proposed Television Repack Scheduling Plan Public Notice

According to the FCC’s Repack Schedule Public Notice, once the forward auction closes, the FCC will release an “Auction Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice” (“Reassignment Notice”) to announce that the reverse and forward auctions have ended, and will specify the effective date of the beginning of the post-auction repack. The Reassignment Notice will also include station post-auction channel assignments, technical parameters, and repacking deadlines.

Under the proposed phased transition schedule which will begin once the incentive auction is over, the FCC plans to assign stations to one of 10 transition phases, and each phase will include common testing periods and completion dates for stations within the phase. Each of the phases will begin on the date the Commission releases the Reassignment Notice, but each of the phases in sequence will have different testing periods and end dates. At the end of each testing phase, stations in that phase would be required to discontinue operations on their pre-auction facilities.

The FCC plans to use two computer-based tools to assign stations to phases and establish phase completion dates for each phase. First, the FCC plans to assign stations to phases using a “Phase Assignment Tool” based on computer models and optimization techniques that are designed to minimize potential interference issues. Second, once stations are assigned to phases, the Commission intends to use a “Phase Scheduling Tool” to estimate the time required for stations in each phase to complete the tasks required to transition and to set the required construction deadlines for each phase.

The FCC is specifically asking for comment on its proposed use of the computer-based tools and on the following list of proposed technical constraints the Commission plans to use when assigning stations into phases:

Proposed Repack Constraints

  1. A station cannot cause more than two percent new interference to another station during the transition.
  2. No stations in Canada will be assigned to transition before the third transition phase, and no Canadian stations will be assigned to a temporary channel.
  3. There will be no more than 10 transition phases.
  4. No U.S. stations will be assigned to temporary channels.
  5. All stations within a DMA will be assigned to no more than two different transition phases.
  6. The difference in the number of stations in the largest transition phase and the smallest transition phase will be no more than 30 stations.
  7. Every transitioning station will be assigned to one transition phase.
  8. No phase can have more than 125 linked stations.
  9. No station falling into the “complicated” category for purposes of the Phase Scheduling Tool can be assigned to Phase 1.

Once these technical constraints have been met, the FCC plans to apply the following repack objectives in an effort to “optimize” each phase assignment:

Proposed Repack Objectives

  1. Assign U.S. stations whose pre-auction channels are in the 600 MHz Band to earlier phases in order to clear the 600 MHz Band as quickly as possible, while simultaneously assigning all Canadian stations and U.S. stations whose pre-auction channel is in the remaining television bands (U.S. TV-band stations) to later phases, where possible, and pursuant to a joint U.S. and Canadian transition plan currently under development.
  2. Minimize the sum, over allDMAs, of the number of times consumers in a DMA must rescan their televisions to locate channels.
  3. Minimize the number of linked-stations in order to provide as many stations as possible with the ability to test their equipment on their post-auction channel while simultaneously broadcasting on their pre-auction channel without the need to coordinate.
  4. Minimize the difference between the number of stations in the largest transition phase and the smallest transition phase.

The FCC states that it will evaluate requests that vary from the proposed constraints and objectives only under limited circumstances and the FCC intends to focus on the impact any requested variance would have on the phase transition schedule. The Public Notice seeks comment on whether the Commission should use a different process and whether it should provide waivers to stations on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, the Television Repack Scheduling Plan Public Notice reminds parties of the Commission’s prohibited communications rule, which forbids broadcasters and forward auction applicants from communicating any incentive auction applicant’s bids or bidding strategies to other parties covered by the relevant rules. Consequently, parties should remain mindful of this prohibition when submitting comments in this proceeding.

Proposed Cost Catalog Public Notice

The Cost Catalog Public Notice is seeking comment on proposed updates to the Cost Catalog it has compiled for television stations to use as a guide when seeking reimbursement for repacking expenses from the $1.75 billion TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund. The Cost Catalog includes a list of categories of expenses that are most likely to be incurred by television stations during the repack, and serves as a guide regarding the kinds of repacking expenses that will be reimbursed to stations.

The proposed changes to the Cost Catalog include several increases in baseline costs previously proposed, the addition of new categories of expenses, and the removal of other categories of expenses which have been discontinued or are not required due to technological changes. After receiving public comment on the proposed updates to the Cost Catalog, the FCC will adopt an updated Cost Catalog to include baseline costs for listed expenses.

The proposed updated Cost Catalog is available here.

Contact Information Public Notice

The Contact Information Public Notice was issued in order to remind all television licensees that it is essential that station contact information on file with the Commission is accurate and current so that the FCC can communicate with licensees about station channel reassignments during the repack. By “current” the FCC means either the information provided in the Form 177 for those television stations that participated in the spectrum incentive auction, or the contact information currently contained in the Licensing and Management System (LMS) for all other stations. Broadcast television licensees should therefore take the time to ensure that the contact information the FCC has on file for their stations is up to date so that they can properly receive repack correspondence from the Commission.

Should you have any questions regarding any of the recent FCC repack public notices or upcoming spectrum repack, please contact any of the attorneys in our office.

Categories: Media