What is the Transition?

Transitioning Broadcasters After the Auctions

Upon conclusion of the incentive auction, the FCC will reauthorize and relicense the facilities of the remaining broadcast television stations that receive new channel assignments in the repacking, or because they have won their auction bid to move to a different frequency band or to channel share. New channel assignments were designed to minimize costs by:

  • maximizing the number of channel “stays,” or stations assigned to their pre-auction channels instead of being assigned to new channels;
  • minimizing the maximum aggregate new interference experienced by any station;
  • avoiding reassignment of stations with high anticipated relocation costs; and
  • prioritizing assignments to channel 5 in the Low-VHF band and off of channel 14 in the UHF band.

The results of the repacking process were announced by public notice and include any new channel assignments for television stations.

Those stations that must move to a new channel will have to modify their existing facilities (e.g., antennas, transmission lines) to transmit on a different frequency. Then they must test their equipment.  Unless a station’s new channel is “available” (i.e., free from interference caused by other stations), it will need to coordinate carefully with one or more other stations to prevent the testing from causing interference.

With hundreds of stations nationwide needing to move to new channels, there is the potential for a “traffic jam” in which a station can’t move to its new channel until a second station moves, and that station in turn must wait for a third station to move, and so on. Stations whose moves are dependent on another’s move are called “linked stations,” and these links can span dozens of stations across a large geographic area. Linked stations can switch to their new channels simultaneously to break up these congestion points, but doing so requires careful coordination.

Transition Process

The Transition Process

The transition process and timeline may vary depending on the licensee.

  • Reassigned stations, winning band-changing bidders in the reverse auction, displaced Class A stations, and stations who must make modifications to their facilities to account for interference increases in excess of 1% will have 90 days to file construction permit applications for any minor changes to their facilities necessary to operate on their new channels.
  • Licensees that successfully bid to relinquish their licenses will have three months from their receipt of auction proceeds to cease operations on their pre-auction channels.
  • Licensees that successfully bid to relinquish their license and enter channel-sharing agreements will have six months from receipt of auction proceeds.

After all stations have filed their initial applications, stations will be permitted to request alternate channels or expanded facilities on their new channels. The Commission will assign stations construction deadlines within the 36 month transition period based on the unique circumstances of each station’s move. Stations may request extensions of time to construct their new facilities, but no station will be allowed to continue operating on their pre-auction channel more than 39 months after the repacking process becomes effective. Stations may also request special temporary authority to operate either on temporary facilities on their new channel or on a channel relinquished by another bidder in the auction in order to continue.

Broadcast licensees can review a checklist of procedures relevant to their particular circumstances and track their progress.


Scheduling the Transition: A Phased Approach

The Media Bureau and the Incentive Auction Task Force have adopted a Transition Scheduling Plan to determine the order and schedule for stations to transition to their post-auction channel assignments. The plan  assigns auction-eligible stations into one of ten “phases” during which they will modify their broadcast facilities as necessary to transmit on their new channel. Each phase concludes with a “testing period” before which stations may not operate on the post-auction channel and a “completion date” after which they may no longer transmit on their pre-auction channel. The optimal sequence met a set of conditions, including:

  • Clear 600 MHz Wireless Band As Soon As Possible: Assigning U.S. stations whose pre-auction channels are in the 600 MHz Band to earlier phases would help open it up to licensees to offer new innovative services. 
  • Limit TV Viewer Rescans/Preserve Regional Focus: Limiting stations in the same Designated Market Area (DMA) to two phases also limits to two the number of times viewers would need to rescan for over-the-air channels. It also reflects the regional approach that stakeholders have suggested.
  • Give “Complicated” Stations More Time: Assigning the most challenging and time-consuming stations (as defined in the expert Widelity Report) to later phases allows adequate time for their transitions.
  • Limit Linked Station Sets in a Phase: Limiting linked sets within a phase would limit the effect of dependencies and facilitate coordination among broadcasters.
  • Limit the Total Number of Phases to 10: Using ten phases strikes a balance between limiting the size of linked-station sets and other goals. A greater number of phases could decrease the number of linked-station sets in each phase but makes more difficult other goals such as transitioning stations within the same media market at the same time and avoiding the need for multiple channel rescans by viewers. Keeping the number of stations in each phase roughly equal also helps in the sharing of resources in each phase.
  • No More than 2% Temporary Interference: Allowing temporary limited increases in interference between two stations is in accord with past transitions and would significantly reduce the number and complexity of dependencies. 

A complete list and discussion of the conditions can be found in the plan’s Technical Appendix.

Once assigning stations to phases, the Commission then determined when those stations switch to their new channels. The TSPPN incorporated a second tool – the sort by Phase Scheduling Tool – which estimates the total time necessary for stations within a phase to complete the transition, informing how the FCC will set end dates for each phase. Specifically, the tool:

  • Assigned minimum completion times for each station based on certain characteristics.
  • Allowed the FCC to assess the impact of unknowns such as the order in which stations receive required resources.
  • Gave the FCC the ability to gauge the impact of resource availability and adjust accordingly.

The TSPPN details the specific tasks or processes proposed to be modelled for each of the stages of the transition process, as well as the estimated time and resource availability for each task. 

Putting stations into different phases with a detailed schedule allows stations, tower crews, and equipment manufacturers know when the FCC expects specific stations to complete their transition and so that they can plan accordingly. It also ensures that the majority of stations will be able to test on their post-auction channel during a specified testing period without having to coordinate with neighboring stations – or those stations’ neighbors. 

Data files including phase assignments, linked station sets, and other technical information can be found on the Post-Auction Transition Data Files page.

Monday, May 8, 2017