Dielectric Meeting with FCC Addresses Potential Repack Phase Completion Issues

Dielectric, along with other broadcast representatives, attended a January 31 meeting with the FCC Incentive Auction Task Force and Media Bureau to provide an update on repack site completions. The meeting followed an October 2018 meeting at which Dielectric presented data indicating tower crew concerns about timely completion of main antenna installations.

The output from the FCC meeting was clear: “The FCC will be flexible in considering STA applications, and extensions if justified, potentially allowing more stations to use interim antennas to meet phase deadlines,” said Keith Pelletier, vice president and general manager, Dielectric.

Although significant repack progress has been made, there are signs that broadcasters may face increasing difficulty in meeting phase deadlines due to severe winter weather and a shortage of qualified tower crews. As rigging and other delays build, Dielectric sees the potential for a domino effect, delaying installations of permanent antennas.

“Some of our customers have been forced to place their permanent repack antennas in storage,” said Pelletier. “Stations that fail to vacate their channels in time could prevent stations in future phases from staying on schedule, due to the critical linked changes in the transition plan. We see potential for a serious bottleneck in phases 3 through 6.”

The installation of interim antennas could keep channel phase evacuations and associated linked changes on track. Although this is not a one size fits all solution, there are many more rigging crews capable of safely installing these side-mount broadband antennas.

“The FCC has indicated their willingness to approve interim facilities for reimbursement with suitable engineering support, demonstrating that the interim facility does not significantly harm the station’s over-the-air viewership,” said Jay Martin, VP Sales, Dielectric. “If the choice becomes going off-air or staying on the existing channel and disrupting critical linkages, operating an interim facility may be a viable compromise for all concerned.”

Making an Interim Plan

Dielectric updated its entire TV antenna product line over the past several years in preparation for repack. The company also foresaw the challenges of the industry adhering to a strict transition schedule of 10 phases in 39 months — directly leading to the creation of its TFU-WB Series antenna in 2016.

The TFU-WB Series is a flexible, broadband antenna, available in horizontally and elliptically polarized versions. Marketed as a main or auxiliary antenna, the TFU-WB offers an interim side-mounted solution for stations challenged by rigging, permitting or other delays. This year marks the third anniversary of its first use broadcasting ATSC 3.0 signals over Las Vegas. It will continue to be a focal point at Dielectric’s NAB Show 2019 booth (C2213) as it serves a critical industry need. NAB Show 2019 show takes place April 8-11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“TV stations and their consultants should critically evaluate their progress towards meeting phase deadlines now and, where appropriate, seek approval to use and install interim antennas,” said Pelletier. “The TFU-WB exists to help stations vacate their existing channels on time — the chief goal of the repack—by staying on the air, operating under STA rules, until their permanent antennas are installed.

No Time to Waste

Nearly 143 affected stations moved during phase 1, which ended November 30, 2018, with another 115 phase 2 stations scheduled to move to new channels by April 12. While the first phase progressed relatively close to schedule, more than 30 stations are now operating under STA approvals.

“The FCC’s stated willingness to be flexible with stations experiencing difficulties and considering interim facilities will be essential,” said Martin. “More than 400 more stations must move to new channels in phases 3 through 6 between mid-April and October 18th.”

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“The broadband design of these antennas means that Dielectric can have antennas on hand for quick deployment, but it is important for stations to work with their consultants now to identify whether the interim antenna is a suitable solution,” said Pelletier. “Dielectric is firmly committed to working with the FCC and helping broadcasters meet their repack deadlines, thus freeing spectrum for Incentive Auction winners.”

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Dielectric Welcomes FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Antenna Facility

Dielectric, the broadcast industry’s premier manufacturer of TV and FM broadcast antenna systems, recently welcomed Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to its repack antenna facility in Lewiston, Maine. Chairman Pai was greeted by Andy Whiteside, President and Keith Pelletier, Vice President and General Manager with a brief discussion of Dielectric’s 75 year history of service to the broadcast industry. The Chairman than met with key Dielectric executives, followed by a guided tour of the facility and repack production operation.

Since opening its doors in December 2017, Dielectric’s Lewiston location has exclusively focused on production of UHF antennas and systems for TV broadcasters migrating to new channel assignments. Dielectric’s leadership in repack orders and deliveries is unquestioned, with the company announcing its 500th repack antenna booking last week, and having already shipped over 200 antennas and systems to broadcasters.

Chairman Pai saw roughly 25 high-power TV antennas in various stages of assembly and testing during the tour. Highlights included in-progress assemblies of the TFU-WB, a cost-efficient, multi-channel, broadband UHF antenna that offers broadcasters a seamless transition to new channel assignments. Also among the antennas on site was a 25,000-pound TV antenna awaiting shipment to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

“Since this was Chairman Pai’s first visit, we took the opportunity to familiarize him with our accomplishments, starting with the leadership role we played during our nation’s digital TV transition,” said Pelletier. “We then highlighted how Dielectric is designing, building, and shipping a record number of antenna systems to serve the historic, national spectrum repack initiative.”

Chairman Pai took an interest in the TFU-WB antenna, as it has played an important role in accelerating spectrum clearance.

“Dielectric is in a unique position to gather information from on-going site installations. We expressed our concern to Chairman Pai that a significant number of installations have already been delayed as broadcasters and rigging crews encounter the technical, structural, logistical and weather problems typical of these projects,” said Whiteside.

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“As a side-mounted, easily installed, auxiliary antenna solution, the TFU-WB offers broadcasters nationwide a strategy to vacate their legacy channel positions,” Jay Martin, Vice President of Sales added. “It gives tower crews time to prepare for the typically more complex and time-consuming main antenna installation, along with transmission line.”

 

“Chairman Pai was clearly intrigued with the complex and unique nature of each antenna system, and the lengths we go to make sure our antennas and brand meet broadcaster expectations,” said Pelletier. “He also seemed extremely interested in the technology we’ve developed to enable ATSC 3.0 for next-generation television, which is a particularly hot topic right now. We have provided RF equipment to just about all the current ATSC 3.0 projects on-going throughout the country, and we hope that US broadcasters will quickly embrace the opportunities of the new standard to develop robust business models for broadcasting’s future,” added Pelletier.

The Dielectric team also detailed how they continue to work with broadcasters to meet their challenging spectrum repack commitments, including those that have agreements with T-Mobile to free spectrum early by vacating their current channels ahead of the FCC repack schedule.

“We at Dielectric were extremely proud to welcome Chairman Pai and demonstrate our contribution and commitment to the multi-year spectrum repack and forthcoming ATSC 3.0 transition,” said Whiteside. “Our doors are always open to the Chairman, the Commissioners and their staff,” added Pelletier.

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Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat Establish the C-Band Alliance (CBA)

The CBA is a Consortium to Facilitate Clearing of U.S. Mid-band Spectrum for 5G While Protecting U.S. Content Distribution and Data Networks.

The CBA is designed to act as a facilitator as described in a recent U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceeding featuring the companies’ market-based proposal to clear a portion of C-band spectrum in the United States. The formation of the CBA is a significant achievement and demonstrates the industry alignment necessary to make this mid-band spectrum available quickly, thus supporting the U.S. objective of winning the race to introduce terrestrial 5G services.

The market-based proposal was developed in response to a proceeding initiated by the FCC in August 2017, which led to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that was formally approved by the FCC on July 12, 2018 and published in the Federal Register of August 30, 2018. The proposal reflects the unique U.S. telecommunications environment and aims to protect the quality and reliability of the extensive services provided by satellite operators in the C-band spectrum to U.S. broadcasters, media, and data companies. The proposal establishes a commercial and technical framework that would enable terrestrial mobile operators to quickly access spectrum in a portion of the 3,700 to 4,200 MHz frequency band in the U.S., speeding the deployment of next-generation 5G services.

The proposal specifies the use of a consortium, now known as the CBA, to undertake the technical and commercial implementation of the spectrum clearing process. This process is necessary to repurpose the C-band spectrum for use in a 5G environment. The CBA will be led, effective immediately, by Bill Tolpegin, currently CEO of OTA Broadcasting, who will serve as Chief Executive Officer of CBA.Media sector veteran Preston Padden will serve as Head of Advocacy and Government Relations.

A significant milestone in the progression of the proposal, the establishment of the CBA signifies that the satellite operators delivering the vast majority of satellite C-band services in the U.S. have agreed upon the key technical and commercial steps necessary to enable commercial implementation of the spectrum clearing process. The CBA also ensures that customer services are protected from potential interference as new wireless services are introduced into the cleared portion of the spectrum.