Making Interim Antennas Pay

By: Keith Pelletier

To reimburse TV broadcasters for the cost of the spectrum repack, the U.S. Congress has set aside a $1.75 billion fund to cover the cost of replacing transmission equipment.

Transmitters, antennas, transmission line and professional services are eligible for reimbursement by the fund provided that the expenses were incurred as a direct result of channel relocation.

However, with respect to antennas, there’s a gray area that can be confusing. For the most part, permanent master antennas are covered along with any related installation costs. This is because it is a like-for-like replacement of what the facility currently uses.

The only way the FCC is going to reimburse broadcasters for a new interim or temporary antenna is if they currently have an auxiliary antenna system on the tower today. I would venture to guess that maybe only 25% of broadcasters today use auxiliary antenna systems, making their replacement equipment reimbursable.

If a broadcaster wants to buy an interim antenna that they can use to operate temporarily on their new channel until their permanent antenna is ready, those expenses would not be reimbursable.

The key is that the equipment must be a like-for-like swap, not something new that’s being added. This leaves some broadcasters stuck waiting for their permanent antenna because they don’t want to shell out their own money for an interim antenna and all the related costs.

But in many markets, spectrum winners like T-Mobile and Sprint are quite anxious to assume control of the freed 600 MHz channel space so they can launch or expand their lucrative, new wireless services.

To push for expedited phase deployment, many cellular providers are aggressively negotiating with broadcasters directly. As part of these negotiations they are offering to cover the cost of interim antennas that are not reimbursable under the capital fund. Their hope is that this proactive approach lets them move into that vacated channel space and market much sooner than the 39-month transition plan allows.

Our TFU-WB antennas, which can serve as interim antennas, are a good investment because they can be used as back-ups to the main antenna after the repack. These UHF band-tunable antennas can also have an after-life on single frequency networks, which many broadcasters will adopt for ATSC 3.0 transmission.

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