InSite Wireless Group has expanded its broadcast tower portfolio through a management agreement with TEGNA, a TV broadcast group, to provide operational support, as well as marketing services, for TEGNA’s wholly owned broadcast towers.
InSite had already been adding to its broadcast tower portfolio. Of its 2,000 total towers, 180 have broadcasters as tenants. The addition of TEGNA’s portfolio brings asset from 51 television stations and four radio stations in 43 markets. It is the largest owner of the top four affiliates in the largest 25 markets.
“The TEGNA tower sites are a large portfolio and a great complement to our already robust broadcast tower facilities across the United States. There is not a lot of overlap. They have extended our reach,” said David Denton, senior vice president for broadcast, who manages InSite’s existing owned and managed broadcast tower assets.
TEGNA will maintain ownership of the towers, while InSite will add revenue, marketing to new tenants, and manage operations by taking care of existing tenants and maintaining the facilities.
“Working with InSite will improve our ability to support, maintain and monetize our TEGNA owned broadcast towers,” said Robert Lydick, vice president, information technology and station operations, TEGNA. “We chose InSite for its industry expertise and we look forward to working with the InSite team to drive value for TEGNA and our portfolio of broadcast towers.”
In another bonus of the tower management agreement, as the TEGNA tower portfolio continues to grow so will InSite’s. In fact, on June 11, TEGNA purchased television stations WTHR, in Indianapolis, IN; WBNS, the Columbus, OH; and WBNS Radio, central Ohio. Before that, in March, the broadcaster added 11 more TV stations to its holdings.
Broadcast Spectrum Repack
With the additional towers, InSite will become even busier. The TEGNA agreement comes during phase four of the 10-phase broadcast repack, which began following the conclusion of the broadcast television incentive auction in April 2017. Certain broadcast TV stations are required to move from their pre-auction channels to new channels in the reorganized broadcast television bands. Many markets are still in the process of changing out broadcast antennas and some have not yet begun.
“We are full speed ahead in the repack in markets across the United States. It puts a lot of strain on tower crews that can do this type of work,” Denton. “We love towers. We love the broadcast business. We are excited to take on this additional responsibility.”
The wireless industry and the broadcasters continued to debate the 39-month window set up for the repack of broadcast TV spectrum during the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology’s hearing this morning entitled, “The Broadcast Incentive Auction: Update on Repacking Opportunities and Challenges.”
With the FCC in the middle of reorganizing broadcasters into the remaining TV bands following the spectrum incentive auction, which cleared 84 megahertz of spectrum and raised $19.8 billion in bids, the House asked for an update on the repacking process would be completed “without disruption to consumers,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) chairman of the committee.
While not explicitly proposing an extension of the FCC’s 39-month repacking window, the National Association of Broadcasters asked that the “FCC’s death penalty” not be enforced “if circumstances beyond its control prevent its transition at the assigned time.”
“Relocating nearly a thousand TV stations to new channels represents a mammoth logistical challenge for broadcasters as well as the FCC,” Rick Kaplan, NAB general counsel, said. “There also will be complications both predictable and unanticipated, such as weather events or accidents.
Kaplan went on to blame the previous Democratically-led FCC for sticking the current commission with “herculean task” in terms of repacking task. He said Congress’ $1.75 billion TV broadcaster fund was not enough money for the transition, and finally, the 39-month transition window was “arbitrary” and “inadequate.”
Scott Bergmann, vice president, Regulatory Affairs, CTIA, countered that the billions spent by the wireless industry for the spectrum auction will only be realized through a “timely” completion of the broadcast TV spectrum repack. He did not disagree that additional funding is needed, proposing the “Viewer Protection Act,” introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), would provide the needed funding.
“With respect to timing, we strongly urge the members of this Committee to maintain the 39-month deadline, which will preserve the integrity of the auction and speed deployment of wireless broadband services to rural America,” Bergmann said.
On the issue of funding, the wireless industry has accused broadcasters of using the relocation money to fund a technology upgrade, such as the transition to ATSC 3.0.
“While CTIA has no objection to broadcasters acquiring improved equipment as part of the repacking, broadcasters should be responsible for covering the costs in excess of those needed to acquire comparable facilities,” Bergmann said. Kaplan denied the charge and maintained, upfront, that the broadcasters are not seeking any money to subsidize upgrades beyond our current operations.
NATE Promotes Safe Broadcast TV Spectrum Repack
James Tracy, Chairman of the National Association of Tower Erectors, did not take a position on the 39-month window in his written comments, but explained the association’s interest the safety of the workers, both broadcast and wireless, involved in the transition.
“We believe that the marketplace will ultimately dictate the time period it will take to achieve this transition,” Tracy said. “NATE’s priorities and focus during this transition will be to provide the broadcast and wireless industry workforce with the safety, standards and best practices resources needed as well as tools for education and encouragement to train to conduct their jobs in a safe and efficient manner.”
Tracy went on to cite the association’s efforts to promote safety during the Broadcast TV repack. NATE produced a broadcast repack safety video to educate the tower workforce on the challenges associated with working on broadcast towers. Additionally, NATE partnered with the American National Standards Institute and the American Society of Safety Engineers to create the first comprehensive safety standard encompassing the entire tower construction, service and maintenance industry. Through the National Wireless Safety Alliance, NATE has established a comprehensive program to ensure ANSI accredited tower technician certification and credentialing as a means to enhance safety.