Sprint Nextel signs with Tribune, Hearst-Argyle

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Sprint Nextel has made fresh progress in moving broadcasters off spectrum the wireless carrier has secured for its future use, reaching "Frequency Relocation Agreements" with Tribune station WGN Chicago and Hearst-Argyle station WESH-Orlando on how they will be reimbursed for new digital microwave gear.

The process, known as “2 GHz Relocation,” is the result of a $4.8 billion agreement the FCC brokered with Sprint Nextel in February 2005. The deal moves some of Sprint Nextel’s operations out of the 800 megahertz (MHz) frequency band, where its signals were interfering with public-safety communications, and into part of the 2 gigahertz (GHz) band, which broadcasters use to send both live and taped feeds from their trucks to the station.

Broadcasters will move off existing ENG channels and use new digital microwave gear to continue operations in a smaller slice of microwave spectrum.

Sprint Nextel must spend roughly $500 million on the digital ENG gear. It will give back spectrum valued at $2.1 billion and also write the federal government a check for $2.2 billion.

The FCC has set a deadline of September 2007 for completion of the nationwide project.

Ira Goldstone, Chief Technology Officer for Tribune Broadcasting, says that WGN's agreement with Sprint Nextel will serve as a template for other Tribune stations in their relocation agreements.

"We're not going to go back and renegotiate each station uniquely," says Goldstone.

While the names of stations in each contract will obviously change, and the dollar amounts of reimbursement will vary based on each station's particular inventory, "the contractual arrangements of the deal won't change," says Goldstone.

WGN expects to receive new digital microwave equipment from its selected vendor Microwave Radio Corporation within the next 30 to 45 days, says Goldstone, with WPMT in Harrisburg, Pa. the next station scheduled to go (Sprint Nextel has arranged the schedule of the 2GHz Relocation based on geographic areas, not market size).

Goldstone didn't know the exact timing for other Tribune stations, but said the station group was aiming to meet the FCC's original deadline.

"We're moving forward under the assumption that September 2007 is the date."

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