DTC hits back at T-Mobile's incentive auction repack claims

Digital Tech Consulting is taking issue with T-Mobile's (NYSE:TMUS) claims regarding the 600 MHz incentive auction channel repacking process, which T-Mobile believes can happen on time and on budget, contrary to what DTC and many in the tall tower industry say.

DTC's pushback comes almost one month after T-Mobile, which has applied to bid in the auction, refuted claims from an NAB-commissioned DTC study that said the 39-month channel repack timeline set by the FCC isn't long enough to complete the process safely. T-Mobile said that by following its outline for the repack, the industry can complete the process on time and at or under the $1.75 billion budget.

According to T-Mobile's study on the matter, fewer antennas are needed than DTC estimated and manufacturing is ramping up, and there are more tower, transmission, and antenna installers and fitters than DTC identified.

DTC said that T-Mobile is wrong in thinking that antennas identified as ''broadband" are capable of transmitting on all contiguous channels within all or a portion of the UHF band without modification.

"This is inaccurate, and reflects T-Mobile's failure to research the capabilities of these antennas," DTC President Myra Moore wrote in the filing, adding that, in order to operate on new channels, most of those antennas will need significant alterations which won't be possible while the antennas remain on towers, to operate on new channels.

DTC also said T-Mobile overstates the availability of critical resources, including tower crews with the equipment and experience qualifying them to perform broadcast antenna installation and removal work. DTC claims to have interviewed the additional companies T-Mobile identified and found that some have not performed broadcast work in more than a decade, don't have the right equipment; and specialize in radio, microwave and cellular antenna installations.

"Many broadcasters have never heard of some of these additional companies, and will not trust them to perform hazardous work on their critical facilities," DTC said.

DTC finally said T-Mobile is incorrect about antenna manufacturers being able to accommodate the sharp increases in demand for broadcast television antennas, adding that only two manufacturers supply antennas to 89 percent of the full power television market. Those manufacturers said typical lead times of 12 to 24 weeks will be needed for design, modeling, manufacturing and testing of antennas, and that those lead times are likely to lengthen as more orders come in.

As DTC is taking to the FCC to air its grievances with T-Mobile's thoughts on the repack, T-Mobile is reiterating its hopes for a expeditious transition in a new blog post. Steve Sharkey, T-Mobile's vice president of government affairs, said using more current, predictive modeling drops the demand estimates in T-Mobile's joint study even further below the "worst case scenario" figures originally presented.

"We are very encouraged by the enthusiastic broadcast industry response to our experts' inquiries, and are more confident than ever that the transition can be done on time and on budget. We will continue our dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure a smooth and timely transition that everyone will be able to support," Sharkey wrote.

As the rhetoric between DTC and T-Mobile heats up, AT&T (NYSE: T) has recently weighed in with its own ideas for the channel repack process and insisted that "strong, centralized FCC leadership on the transition will be essential." AT&T's plan, calling for a carefully developed and regionally prioritized plan, coupled with strong project management, last week got a cosign from NAB, which told the FCC it agrees with AT&T's three basic tenants for the transition: planning, reporting, and dispute resolution.

With key points like a structured channel repacking plan still up in the air, the FCC is still confident that the auction will begin on March 29.

For more:
- read this T-Mobile blog post
- see this FCC filing
- and this filing

Related articles:
AT&T urges 'strong, centralized FCC leadership' during post-auction transition
T-Mobile refutes DTC study, says incentive auction repack can happen on time and on budget
Incentive auction channel repack offers big risk, big reward
600 MHz auction and channel repacking will drive demand for tower workers

Article updated March 22 with new information from T-Mobile