The Digital Television Repack

The Broadcast Incentive Auction

On March 29, 2016, the FCC commenced the first-ever “incentive auction” designed to repurpose radio frequency spectrum for new uses. Bidding in the auction closed on March 30, 2017, taking 84 megahertz of spectrum from the television band. The auction yielded $19.8 billion in revenue, including $10.05 billion for winning broadcast bidders and more than $7 billion to be deposited to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.

On April 13, 2017 the Commission released a public notice formally closing the auction and beginning the 39-month period during which time many TV stations will need to transition to new channel assignments.

History of the UHF TV band

The UHF television band in the US originally spanned from channel 14 up to channel 83. In 1983, the FCC took channels 70 to 83 (the 800 MHz band) from television to provide frequencies for the Advanced Mobile Phone System. In 2009, channels 52 to 69 (the 700 MHz band) were re-allocated to services other than television during the DTV conversion. In 2011, the FCC halted further use of channel 51 because of interference being caused to users of the 700 MHz band.

The broadcast incentive auction this year is selling channels 38 to 50 for uses other than television service. Channel 37 has been reserved for radio astronomy for some time. All existing television stations will be "repacked" to fit into the remaining UHF channels of 14 to 36 or to one of the less-desirable VHF channels (2 to 13).

How the repack is occurring

Many local TV stations will be changing channels. This is a major undertaking for a broadcast television station and it will take most stations several weeks (also dependent on weather conditions for tower work) to complete the process. Stations will remain on the air through most of this time, but until their new facilities are complete, they will be operating with temporary, low-power transmitters that will have reduced coverage.

The FCC has broken the repack up into 10 time phases to insure that station's signals don't interfere with each other as they are changing channels. All repack stations have been assigned to one of those 10 time phases to perform the transition to their new channel. The stations in this area have been assigned to either Phase 2 or Phase 9.

What this means to over-the-air TV viewers at home

When the stations start their tower work on their main antenna system, some viewers will lose their signal because the temporary, low-power transmitter and antenna is not going to cover the same area as their full power signal. Stations will attempt to minimize the time that they are on low power, but there are many factors that are out of their control including the weather and tower crew availability. There are a small number of tower crews that can perform this type of work, so they will be in high demand and extremely busy.

Viewers will also have to re-scan for channels on their receivers whenever one of the local stations makes the switch to their new channel assignment. The transition plan was supposed to minimize the number of re-scans required, but viewers will still need to re-scan multiple times so they don't lose the ability to watch all of their local TV stations. Here is the FCC's web site on how to re-scan for channels:

Stations will keep viewers informed of their exact transition schedule.

FCC Repack Website:

Here is a table of how TV stations in our area are affected by the repack:

 Television Station  City Current
 RF Channel 
New Repack
 RF Channel 
 Digital Channel 
Repack Dates
WEAU Eau Claire 38 17 13-1, 13-2, 13-3, 13-4 9 03/14/2020 - 05/01/2020
WEUX  Chippewa Falls  49 21 48-1, 48-2, 48-3, 48-4 2 12/01/2018 - 04/12/2019
WHLA La Crosse 30 15 31-1, 31-2, 31-3, 31-4 2 12/01/2018 - 04/12/2019
WHWC Menomonie 27 No Change 28-1, 28-2, 28-3, 28-4 - -
WKBT La Crosse 8 No Change 8-1, 8-2, 8-3 - -
WLAX La Crosse 17 33 25-1, 25-2, 25-3, 25-4 9 03/14/2020 - 05/01/2020
WQOW Eau Claire 15 25 18-1, 18-2, 18-3 2 12/01/2018 - 04/12/2019
WXOW La Crosse 48 28 19-1, 19-2, 19-3 2 12/01/2018 - 04/12/2019

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