WASHINGTON, D.C. — A January 31 meeting with the FCC Incentive Auction Task Force and Media Bureau saw “broadcast representatives,” including those from Sinclair Broadcast Group wholly owned subsidiary Dielectric, offering an update on repack site completions.
The output from the FCC meeting, which followed an October 2018 meeting at which Dielectric presented data indicating tower crew concerns about timely completion of main antenna installations, was clear.
“The FCC will be flexible in considering STA applications, and extensions if justified, potentially allowing more stations to use interim antennas to meet phase deadlines,” said Keith Pelletier, Dielectric’s VP/GM.
Although significant repack progress has been made, there are signs that broadcasters may face increasing difficulty in meeting phase deadlines due to severe winter weather and a shortage of qualified tower crews. As rigging and other delays build, Dielectric sees the potential for a domino effect, delaying installations of permanent antennas.
“Some of our customers have been forced to place their permanent repack antennas in storage,” said Pelletier. “Stations that fail to vacate their channels in time could prevent stations in future phases from staying on schedule, due to the critical linked changes in the transition plan. We see potential for a serious bottleneck in phases 3 through 6.”
The installation of interim antennas could keep channel phase evacuations and associated linked changes on track. Although this is not a one size fits all solution, there are many more rigging crews capable of safely installing these side-mount broadband antennas.
“The FCC has indicated their willingness to approve interim facilities for reimbursement with suitable engineering support, demonstrating that the interim facility does not significantly harm the station’s over-the-air viewership,” added Dielectric VP/Sales Jay Martin. “If the choice becomes going off-air or staying on the existing channel and disrupting critical linkages, operating an interim facility may be a viable compromise for all concerned.”
No Time to Waste
Nearly 143 affected stations moved during phase 1, which ended November 30, 2018, with another 115 phase 2 stations scheduled to move to new channels by April 12. While the first phase progressed relatively close to schedule,more than 30 stations are now operating under STA approvals.
“The FCC’s stated willingness to be flexible with stations experiencing difficulties and considering interim facilities will be essential,” said Martin. “More than 400 more stations must move to new channels in phases 3 through 6 between mid-April and October 18th.”
Pelletier added, “The broadband design of these antennas means that Dielectric can have antennas on hand for quick deployment,but it is important for stations to work with their consultants now to identify whether the interim antenna is a suitable solution. Dielectric is firmly committed to working with the FCC and helping broadcasters meet their repack deadlines, thus freeing spectrum for Incentive Auction winners.”