The National Association of Broadcasters told the House Energy & Commerce Committee Tuesday (Dec. 11) that there are already warning signs that more broadcasters will miss their post-auction repack deadlines and the Committee needs to provide significant oversight of the FCC to ensure broadcasters aren't forced off the air for situations beyond their control.
Phase 1 of the repack ended last month, but 11 stations were unable to meet their deadlines. The FCC was able to move them to later phases in the 10-phase process, but NAB said that will be more difficult with Phase II, which ends next April 12, because more station moves are linked—domino-like—with moves of stations in other phases.
That is according to testimony from NAB executive VP of government relations Curtis LeGeyt at a hearing on the FCC's reauthorization legislation, the RAY BAUM'S Act.
The last phase of the move ends in July 2020 and LeGeyt says that is an aggressive timeline that could cause disruptions of service.
One of those "beyond their control" events happened this year, he pointed out, when a tower collapsed and a crew was injured and one member killed. That delayed the work on a station, KVLY Fargo, N.D., which would have had to pull the plug or cut back service if the FCC had not moved the station to a different phase.
"[T]he current black-letter FCC rules leave broadcasters exposed. Viewers should not be left in the dark if stations encounter challenges that make it impossible to meet their deadlines despite their best efforts and due to events outside their control," LeGeyt said in prepared testimony.
But wait, there is a lot more. LeGeyt said tower crews are already sounding their own warning that there will be additional delays further down the schedule, citing system-wide “unforeseen site failures and low power television displacements requiring the pulling of equipment and crews, poor weather conditions delaying tower work by months, stations conducting their latter-phase transitions earlier than required by the Commission and unforeseen structural and permitting delays."
He said broadcasters will do their best, but the FCC should have a "meaningful phase modification and waiver standard" so that no station will be forced off the air or to reduce coverage.
Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the waivers made sense, but that there was also a "lot of pressure" to get this done, "this" being get the spectrum in the hands of wireless companies for 5G.
House Communications Subcommittee ranking member and likely soon to be chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) registered his unhappiness that the FCC had yet to launch a consumer education campaign—with money Congress allocated in the RAY BAUM'S act—to let them know about the station and channel moves. He said consumers were in "desperate need" of information on how the repack impacts them, like re-scanning stations. He said the FCC needs to get into gear.