As we’ve been reporting, operators of registered C-Band earth stations in the United States are being asked by the FCC to decide how they want to be reimbursed for the expense of moving antenna facilities impacted by the spectrum repack.
The National Association of Broadcasters produced a webinar this week that provided more insights from several experts.
Earth station operators on the qualified list of antennas can choose from a more traditional a la carte menu of potential expenses and have their actual costs of a relocation covered, or select a possible lump-sum payment determined by the FCC that takes into consideration the average expected costs associated with the repack of the upper 200 MHz of the C-Band. The deadline for earth station operators to accept the lump-sum payment per registered and qualified antenna is Sept. 14.
The webinar focused much of its discussion on the lump-sum option and the consequences if owners of satellite receivers elect that form of reimbursement.
Matthew Pearl, assistant bureau chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission, said incumbents need to examine their individual circumstances to determine the best path forward when purchasing new antennas and other equipment.
“The lump-sum election option is a new option. Earth station owners are taking the transition into their own hands with that option. The lump-sum amount is based on the average relocation cost based on the type of earth stations they have,” Pearl said during the webinar.
The FCC said it determined the lump sum value based on what the average transition cost of an antenna type or class of earth station. The FCC recently updated cost estimates to increase the range of costs for certain categories of earth station equipment at the behest of NAB, which included bumping up the cost estimate for certain site and project costs for fixed services, including power utility coordination and soil boring.
Pearl said radio broadcasters that operate multiple stations in clusters are reminded that the lump-sum base payments are calculated per antenna rather than per earth station registration or site. Therefore a cluster of radio stations with more than one antenna registered per site could be eligible for reimbursement for multiple lump-sum payouts.
“It’s also important to note that operators will not be able to choose which of their earth stations will receive the lump-sum. It’s an all or nothing. Meaning it would apply to all of their earth stations or they would have to select the reimbursement option,” Pearl said during the webinar.
If a radio broadcaster selects the lump-sum option they could use the money to transition “to fiber and disconnect from C-Band services and therefore be responsible for any new or additional equipment needed to do that,” Pearl said.
And while there is no specific FCC form earth station owners need to file to accept the lump-sum payment option, operators are encouraged to file at least one document in a “machine readable format” such as an Excel spreadsheet format. Owners of multiple earth stations can file them individually or in aggregate.
“It’s important that all of the information described in the FCC’s Public Notice, including the information that the operator needs to provide and certifications, need to be done by Sept. 14. We strongly encourage operators provide accurate and complete technical information. It is possible incomplete filings could be dismissed with no amendments allowed. It’s not clear right now whether there will be any relief,” Pearl said.
“It’s also important to remember that the decision to elect the lump-sum is irrevocable,” Pearl said. “Anything that is unexpected that comes up later would not be reimbursed by the commission.”
Lump-sum payments to earth station owners would come after the auction for the lower 280 megahertz of the 500-megahertz segment of spectrum from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, Pearl said. The FCC hopes to hold the auction for the C-Band spectrum being cleared in the repack beginning Dec. 8. C-Band spectrum will be made available for new services and could be redeployed as soon as September 2023, according to the FCC.
Mark Johnson, president of LinkUp Communications, said radio stations that receive programming via C-Band earth stations have a lot to consider in a short amount of time when deciding between the lump-sum option or participating in the coordinated transition process.
“Start with the financial. Obviously revenue is important for radio and TV at this time, but it isn’t as simple as putting a new filter on an antenna normally. It’s much more complex than that. Everyone should take time to examine their specific applications. The satellite companies have spent the past few years studying this situation and making evaluations,” Johnson said.
“Those satellite companies came up with these average costs for what needs to be done and your individual earth station reconfiguration costs could be less or could be more.”
And Johnson said there could be some additional risks involved for those who go with the lump-sum election.
“Keep in mind radio and TV are very different. Operators really need to take the next three weeks evaluating their risk tolerance and researching what their needs are. You can’t paint everyone with one brush. We have seen installing systems all over this country the variation is beyond most people’s imagination.
“For instance, if an earth station operator can’t just replace the filter or re-point their antenna, there could be a need for a new antenna. A new antenna installed … at the new location could be from $10k to $20k. The lump sum wouldn’t begin to touch that,” Johnson said during Monday’s webinar.
The C-Band webinar’s panel of experts also included representatives from satellite fleet operators SES and Intelsat, who outlined the level of detail that will be required for a successful spectrum repack. The webinar, hosted by Patrick McFadden, SVP and deputy counsel for NAB, is free online at the NAB’s website.
[Link: The FCC’s Cost Catalog]