Broadcasters Fight for Flexibility in Repack Reimbursement

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UPDATE Broadcasters urged the FCC this week to be flexible in how the agency reimburses FMs, low-power TV stations and TV translators for repacking expenses. Reply comments were recently due to docket 18-214 on the agency’s proposed catalog of reimbursable expenses, including tower mapping, rigging and new tower construction.

Broadcasters in phase one of the repack must be moved to their new channel by this Friday.
NPR suggested the FCC maximize relief and minimize obstacles for “innocent bystander” FMs so they can avoid or reduce the duration of service disruptions to listeners. NPR seeks flexibility to provide reimbursement for costs not listed in the
catalog and expenses that are higher than the suggested ranges.

Some stations may incur costs beyond the typical purchase of new equipment and tower rigging and installation, says NPR. Some stations are buying used gear to lower their Auxiliary site costs while their primary tower sites are disrupted. NPR is also exploring the possibility of loaning equipment for this purpose and would like the costs of testing, maintenance and re-tuning reimbursed. 

NAB agrees flexibility is key, saying none of the commenters believe the FCC’s proposed graduated reimbursement for FMs forced to power down, or go to low power, will work. “The NPRM’s proposal appears to be based on an assumption that many FM radio stations can simply absorb significant costs associated with constructing auxiliary facilities even if those costs are not fully reimbursed or, worse, a prediction that some stations will simply decide to accept being forced entirely off the air temporarily by the Commission’s repacking process,” says the broadcast trade lobby.    

Small commercial FMs face the same problem as NPR affiliates. If they are told they would be eligible for maybe 50 percent reimbursement, they won’t be able to make up the difference and may have no choice but to go dark, according to the broadcast trade lobby. “The FCC chose to develop a repacking approach that did not consider FM radio stations, make any effort to minimize disruption to those stations or allow sufficient time to ensure that work could be completed during off-peak hours,” says NAB. It adds the repack is not an Act of God, but rather, the result of a Commission policy decision.

NAB agrees with a proposal from the National Translator Association to streamline reimbursement for stations that agree to limit their reimbursement costs to $31,000 or less. These stations would not need to submit preliminary proposals or estimates. They would be reimbursed based on their paid invoices and be eligible for 100 percent reimbursement.

NAB does not believe the FCC should reimburse T-Mobile for money the carrier has paid to get LPTVs and translators to move early, saying those are voluntary commitments the carrier made, “likely based on T-Mobile’s political calculation that its early and aggressive deployment could backfire if it were seen as forcing” LPTVs off the air. T-Mobile argues it voluntarily undertook several initiatives to assist displaced LPTV stations, “given that Congress initially declined to do so.” It would be unfair to use the carrier’s financial aid to bar stations from seeking reimbursement funding, says the carrier, which supports safeguards to prevent a station from double-dipping. Comments? Email us.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

November 28, 2018               

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