In a letter to the FCC being filed Monday, NAB asked the FCC to reconsider the hard deadline for the station repack following the auction, saying "the Commission’s one-size-fits-all deadline is manifestly unreasonable."
NAB also says it has shared its concerns about the timeline with the wireless carriers who will be moving on to that vacated spectrum after the auction.
“NAB has met on several occasions with wireless carriers to share our concerns that 39 months may not be sufficient enough time to complete a repack for all stations (which is dependent on how many stations the FCC intends to repack)," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.
NAB also submitted a study of the repack it had commissioned by Digital Tech Consulting that concluded that about 445 stations could be relocated within 39 months at the $1.75 billion the FCC has to compensate broadcasters for the move. "However, if the transition requires more stations to repack, there is simply no way additional stations will be able to meet the current hard deadline. This is not a reasonable approach."
NAB wants the FCC to drop the hard deadline and instead use a "regional transition" approach. NAB says no timeline should be established until after the auction is over and the FCC has determined how many stations will have to move.
NAB may have shared their concerns with wireless carriers, but their major trade association was clearly not of like mind.
“CTIA strongly opposes any efforts to delay consumer access to the 600 MHz band," the group said. "The success of the auction assumes carriers will bid substantial sums, and that cannot happen absent certainty that they will receive timely access to the spectrum purchased. The FCC’s current repacking process is fair and achievable for the broadcast industry, has been affirmed by the D.C. Circuit as reasonable and even extends six months past the timeline suggested by NAB in its own proposals to the FCC during the rulemaking process."
"Contrary to what CTIA suggests, NAB agrees the TV auction should move forward quickly and that auction winners should gain access to spectrum as expeditiously as possible," said Wharton. "Our only ask is that the FCC set a deadline that is tied to how many and which stations will be repacked. That timeline will undoubtedly change if the number of repacked TV stations is 200 or 1,200.
"In our view, DTC’s analysis is unassailable, which is why NAB offered to fund a separate wireless industry study as another data point. We were not taken up on that offer. The TV auction can and should go forward without an arbitrary 39-month deadline. Such flexibility will not slow the auction, but would ensure that no broadcaster is forced to go dark if a timely repack proves impossible."
Preston Padden, former executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which advocated for stations interested in putting spectrum in the auction at the right price and conditions, said NAB's proposal would "kill" any chance for a successful auction, "period." He said nobody would bid on spectrum without a deadline for when they could take posession of it.
"[I]t is essential to provide safety net exceptions for stations that run into bona fide delays," he said. "But the FCC simply cannot conduct an auction without specifying a generally applicable outside date by which winning bidders get access to their spectrum."