March 14, 2017
With the broadcast incentive auction bidding recently completed, all eyes are on the process of relocating TV stations to their new channels, known as “repacking.” And the FCC has set a 39-month deadline for the broadcasters to leave their spectrum.
During the 39-month timeline, the wireless infrastructure industry will be hustling to build towers, modify towers, attach antennas, and rework backhaul links — among other things.
If the changing of physical plant was all that had to transpire, the FCC’s repacking window would probably be adequate, but the compliance process may prove to be a stumbling block to making the deadline, Cory Crenshaw, FCC-FAA regulatory compliance consultant, Crenshaw Communications Consulting, told an audience during the NATE UNITE 2017 conference, Feb. 28, in Fort Worth. The compliance process, however, can take six to 24 months or more, she noted.
“The 39-month period would be reasonable if transitioning the broadcasters was all that you were doing, but other factors are at play that have not been accounted for, such as regulatory compliance issues,” she said. “They missed a huge piece, the compliance and waiver process, which is a red flag that can hold systems up. The compliance processes are complex and sometimes take months to years – each site must be individually evaluated.”
Crenshaw said that the repack will require work on more structures than just the broadcast tower. There might be 30 other communications structures spread out across the coverage area that feed into the network. Compliance filings may be needed for all of those structures, whether they are new towers, reinforcements, new antenna heights, lighting changes or environmental assessments.
“Every one of those towers may to need to be touched,” she said. “Those touches will require a massive volume of filings with the FCC and the FAA for repacking.”
Crenshaw: Don’t Delay Regulatory Compliance Filings
The wireless infrastructure industry must be vigilant in making its regulatory filings with the FCC and the FAA from the get-go to give it the best shot at completing the repacking process before the FCC’s deadline, Crenshaw said.
Construction permits have to be filed no more than 90 days after the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice is released. There is flexibility to expand contour coverage of applications filed in the initial 90-day window – with justification and appropriate showings.
“If you have an idea of a way to expedite the process, please file those applications as soon as possible. The FCC wants to make it as easy as possible to move forward,” she said. “The initial 90-day window is the window of opportunity for everything. If you need to file an STA [special temporary authority] or a waiver or something like that, get it in during the first 90 days. Whenever you file an STA or a waiver on a major mandate like this, you must have a really good reason, be sure to give them a documentation trail on why this is justified.
“In reality some tower owners won’t know they need to file for a waiver on the scheduled deadline or any other waiver concern until in the middle of a process,” Crenshaw added.
The first 30 days after the [Closing and Reassignment Public Notice] comes out, the industry will need to be busy doing thorough assessments of the broadcasters’ networks and what the infrastructure looks like. What changes do they really need to make? Do new towers need to be built, dishes moved around, or does the backhaul need to revamped? Once that is done, the proper paperwork should be filed with the corresponding federal agency and/or tribes as soon as possible.
EDITORS’ Note — This article was supplemented with an exclusive interview with Crenshaw.