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C-Band Repack Could Be Costly for Many Radio Stations

Nonregistered users may face costs soon

Radio World has learned it’s possible that thousands of radio stations in the United States failed to register their C-Band earth station terminals with the FCC prior to its 2018 deadline and presumably will be ineligible for reimbursement funds set aside by the FCC to cover the cost of a C-Band repack.

The alarm is being sounded by a person on the infrastructure side of the industry familiar with Chairman Ajit Pai’s draft Report and Order to make the lower 280 megahertz of the C-Band (3.7–3.98 GHz) available for flexible use, including 5G, through a public auction.

Radio and TV broadcasters utilize 3.7 to 4.2 GHz for satellite C-Band downlinks. However, the draft order released last week indicates incumbent satellite services are expected to be repacked from the 500 MHz to the upper 200 megahertz of the band (4.0–4.2 GHz).

[Read: C-Band Auction Could Begin in December]

There are provisions within the FCC C-Band draft Report and Order that spell out reimbursements to radio stations with incumbent C-Band earth stations that will be impacted by the relocation of spectrum. However, an industry source closely following the issue says he estimates as many as 2,000 radio stations never registered their C-Band downlinks.

“I estimate at least 25% of radio stations did not register their C-Band downlinks before the fall 2018 deadline, and they will be cut off from reimbursement of their costs to upgrade dishes,” the person said. “Their decision may have cost them each $1,000 to $5,000 because new equipment must be installed on their dish to block upcoming 5G cellular interference.”

The satellite infrastructure insider says the FCC’s reimbursement plan is “quite generous” and will protect the majority of radio broadcasters, but unregistered earth station sites will have to pay for the new gear out of their own pocket. “That might be a $500 dish filter and a few hundred dollars for labor to repoint it, but what happens if the dish has marginal reception already. It might become unusable and then you need a new $4,000 dish and more money for a new pad,” he said.

The FCC acknowledges in the draft order there is concern by some in the industry that a substantial number of small rural radio and television stations and private networks that rely on C-Band programming failed to submit registration filings. However, the FCC says it will not open another window for the registration of earth stations, according to the draft order. There are approximately 20,000 registered earth stations in the contiguous U.S., according to the FCC.

“I’m sure all of the major broadcast groups took the time to register, but I know of many small broadcasters who ignored doing so,” according to the satellite equipment supplier.

For those who have unregistered earth band downlink, their only recourse apparently is to lobby the FCC for reconsideration. “If there are hundreds of radio stations contacting the FCC in the next few weeks, all asking for an extension to register their C-Band downlinks, it is possible they could get in on the planned reimbursement program, but only if the FCC rethinks the situation,” the person said.