NAB Calls Graduated Scale FM Repack Funds a No Go

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NAB this week urged the FCC to drop its proposal to reimburse FMs that are co-located on a television tower impacted by the TV channel repack on a graduated scale, depending on how long the disruption lasts. NAB says the concept “fundamentally misapprehends the dramatic and damaging effect of going off air for FM stations and their listeners.” Potentially “hundreds” of FMs located on or near towers supporting repacked TV stations may have to operate at reduced power or shut down entirely for “extended” periods to protect tower workers, according to NAB.

Under the agency’s proposal, stations off the air for 10 or fewer days would be eligible for 50 percent of the expenses for interim facilities. Stations off the air for 30 or fewer days would be eligible for 75 percent, and stations off the air for more than 30 days would be eligible for 100 percent. The proposal is “arbitrary and capricious,” and could disproportionately impact small and rural broadcasters and listeners, the association says in a filing.

An unintended consequence of this policy, NAB warns, could be for repacking vendors to drag out the repack for those FMs eligible for reimbursement to generate more business. “The Commission has no jurisdiction over these vendors and is ill-equipped to even attempt to police slow-rolling.” 

Instead, NAB suggests the FCC make at least 80 percent of reimbursable expenses available to all impacted FM stations in an initial allocation, without applying arbitrary distinctions based on the length of time a station will be off the air.  The FCC should be flexible in reimbursing stations that need to lease a tower for their Aux facilities during the repack. While the proposal only calls for reimbursing lease payments during the disruption, a minimum lease term may be “significantly longer,” says NAB.

NAB agrees with the FCC, that tower construction expenses should only be covered for FMs that can prove no space was available on nearby towers, to allow them to replicate their coverage area. The broadcast association supports the agency’s definition of FMs eligible for reimbursement: (1) stations forced to relocate permanently; (2) stations forced to temporarily dismantle equipment or make other changes not requiring Commission approval; and (3) stations forced to temporarily reduce power or cease transmission on their primary facility to accommodate antenna or tower modifications.

As television stations in Phase 1 of the repack transition begin testing their transmission facilities on their new channels, it marks the beginning of a massive, complex and unprecedented relocation of nearly 1,000 television stations. Congress first allocated $1.75 billion for tower and antenna work for TV stations. This year, members allocated another $1 billion for FMs, low-power TV stations and TV translators that incur expenses related to the repack. Comments were due this week, on how the agency should disperse those additional funds.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

September 28, 2018              

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