Repack Phase Zero? You Could Be In Trouble

Many TV broadcasters have an unpleasant reality in store for them as the spectrum repack gains momentum — one that may take some by surprise, says Karl Voss, chief engineer at noncommercial KAET Phoenix and the SBE/NFL frequency coordinator.

The reality is many broadcasters belong to a transition period Voss likes to call Phase Zero — a term he has coined for those using unprotected channels regardless of their primary or secondary broadcast service status.

“Phase Zero is any channel in 600 MHz or above that is not a protected channel,” he says.

While the repack rules protect about 1,000 U.S. Class A and full-power TV stations, allowing them to continue transmitting their signals to viewers on a new channel assignment and reimbursing at least a part of the expense involved in moving channels, that’s only one part of the story, Voss says.

“If that channel doesn’t have a protected user on it, meaning low-powers, TV translators and wireless microphones, it’s vulnerable,” he says.

That means even full-power and Class A stations must be ready with alternatives to replace wireless mics, intercoms, IFBs, in-ear talent monitors and other equipment that today operate in the 600 MHz band. And they must do so posthaste.


“Many vendors have been telling everybody not to worry about wireless mics,” says Voss. “They say: ‘You won’t have to get off your channels till 2020 at the end of the transition.’ But that’s simply not true.”

Unlike before the auction when broadcasters had two UHF channels reserved in each market for wireless mics, once a wireless carrier moves into its newly acquired spectrum — perhaps onto unprotected channels used by wireless mics — broadcasters must vacate.

That can happen well before the end dates assigned to each of the FCC’s 10 repack phases, and Voss is concerned this will take many broadcasters by surprise.

“I think the wireless mic folks are in for a big challenge because everybody had this idea that there would be this semi-orderly transition based on the phases. That’s not the case.”

T-Mobile is planning to turn on wireless service on a lot of its new 600 MHz spectrum before the end of this year, a source familiar with repack said on background.

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