NAB calls FCC's 39-month repacking timeline 'arbitrary and inflexible'

Image: William Warby/Flickr

The FCC’s 39-month timeline for repacking the spectrum of broadcast TV stations after the incentive auction ends is “arbitrary and inflexible,” according to a filing from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), and should be altered.

The commission maintains that its schedule provides ample time to reshuffle TV broadcasters’ 600 MHz spectrum for wireless use to avoid interference problems after the auction is concluded. But the NAB said in a Friday filing with the FCC that the schedule doesn’t give broadcasters enough time to move to other channels.

The FCC expects more than 1,100 U.S stations may need to move to new channels after the auction. Broadcasters who haven’t moved off the affected spectrum within the 39-month deadline may be forced off the air, the NAB argued, interrupting service for consumers who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite offerings.

“The sheer number of stations that must move, the interference interdependencies between these stations, and the highly individualized nature of broadcast transmission facilities will make this the most challenging transition the Commission has ever overseen,” NAB executives wrote. “While all five Commissioners have publicly stated that no station will be forced off the air if it is unable to meet the FCC’s arbitrary 39-month cutoff, that is precisely what the current rules provide…. While broadcasters have every incentive to move as quickly as possible, there is no reason for the Commission to make television stations and their viewers unnecessary victims of a deadline that has little chance of being met and only risks creating inefficiency and delay.”

Related: T-Mobile’s 600 MHz auction repacking report is “oversimplified and misleading,” NAB argues

Rather than imposing the 39-month timeline on all broadcasters, the FCC should assign broadcasters to staggered phases “to attempt to avoid bottlenecks in the vendor and service provider supply chain,” the NAB lobbied. The commission should also be willing to adjust deadlines based on a variety of factors, the NAB suggested, and its plan should be more flexible to plan for both “foreseeable and unforeseeable developments.”

The NAB’s filing is just the latest salvo in a long-running debate over the FCC’s repacking timeline. T-Mobile said in June that extending the schedule “would impose grave harm on consumers” because it would delay carriers’ efforts to put the spectrum to use as quickly as possible. And the Competitive Carriers Association also backs the FCC’s timeline, saying in January that it establishes “aggressive, but attainable, deadlines for stations to complete their relocation.”

AT&T, meanwhile, has been less polarized on the issue. The No. 2 wireless carrier in the U.S. signaled in February that it would be willing to extend the deadline, saying its top priority is to see a “realistic” schedule for repacking the airwaves. Stage 3 of the forward portion of the incentive auction will kick off tomorrow morning; analysts say a likely fourth stage could drag the event into next year.