WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Lyn Plantinga, vice president and general manager of E.W. Scripps' WTVF Nashville, testified this morning at a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing on "The Broadcast Incentive Auction: Update on Repacking Opportunities and Challenges."
Below is her testimony as prepared for delivery.
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Good morning Chairmen Walden and Blackburn, Ranking Members Pallone and Doyle, and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me here today. My name is Lyn Plantinga and I am the General Manager of NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, Tennessee, where I oversee the day-to-day operations of 149 employees. NewsChannel 5 is proud to be part of the E.W. Scripps Company and its 33 television stations across 24 markets nationwide.
As the number one rated station in Nashville, NewsChannel 5 is dedicated to practicing the Scripps motto – “Give light and the people will find their own way.” We carry out this mission by telling the stories of people who often do not have a voice, and ensuring accountability for the actions of the powerful. Our commitment to community through coverage of breaking news, severe weather, in-depth investigations, and civic engagement helps make Nashville a better place to live and work.
Behind the newsroom cameras, before a doppler radar image or live feed from our news helicopter can reach our viewers, NewsChannel 5 maintains and operates a sophisticated technical infrastructure to originate and deliver our free broadcast signal, over-the-air, to viewers in middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. In the Fall of 2019, this infrastructure will be tested when NewsChannel 5 is required to move channels to accommodate an auction of broadcast spectrum that affords our station and our viewers no benefit. At a minimum, we will expend time and resources to significantly reconfigure our operations and educate over-the-air viewers to rescan their televisions so they can find us on our new channel. In a worst case, we will face out-of-pocket costs and viewer disruption that undermines our ability to serve our community.
To put what is otherwise an academic problem in real terms, NewsChannel 5’s move will require the purchase and installation of a new transmitter, a new primary antenna, and an interim antenna. We estimate these equipment and labor costs will total $4.1 million for our station alone. While this is a high number, it is not atypical. Of Scripps’ 33 local television stations, 17 will be moving channels, including those in Tampa, Buffalo, and Detroit, at an estimated cost of $55 million.
More people turn to NewsChannel 5 for news and information than to any other station in the state of Tennessee. We have earned this position in the market through dependable coverage, quality journalism, and investing in our team and tools to raise the bar every day. Local broadcasters like us, who drew the “short straw” and face this upheaval through no fault of their own, should certainly not be required to drain additional resources from their coverage by footing the bill for a repack from which we yielded no benefit.
The logistics of our channel reassignment also present significant challenges in completing our move in the timeframe prescribed by the FCC. Though branded as NewsChannel “5”, we will actually move from channel 25 to 36 in Nashville. Over the course of only six weeks, we will need to complete our work and coordinate with two other local broadcasters: the station that occupies the channel we are moving to, and the station that will move into the channel we currently occupy. There is little margin for error and this will all be happening while five additional broadcasters perform similar tower work in Nashville.
We can foresee these difficulties because NewsChannel 5 has been down this road before. Our three previous channel moves during the digital transition proved extremely difficult because of challenges in scheduling the individual components of the channel change, getting equipment delivered, and work done on time. Weather also played a significant role. Heavy rain can prevent a tower crew from climbing, especially on a tower as tall as ours at 1400-plus feet. Several days of rain – or more severe weather – can close the window to complete the project. This repack’s compacted timeline and the market pressure of so many stations changing channels at the same time adds to the difficulty.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize our shared goal for a successful transition that accomplishes Congress’s objective of deploying additional wireless service. However, NewsChannel 5 asks that Congress take all the necessary steps to ensure that its relocation costs are fully covered by the FCC. We also ask that our viewers are protected from any risk of signal disruption should we be unable to complete our station move on time. Anything less would not only be inequitable, but also undermine the ability of NewsChannel 5 and all impacted broadcasters to continue to serve Nashville and other local communities.
Thank you again for inviting me here today. I look forward to answering any questions.
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