U.S. House Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) discussed the “unintended consequences” of the TV channel repack plan affecting low-power TV stations, TV translators and FM radio stations at last Thursday’s House Communications Subcommittee hearing on the television transition. NAB EVP/General Counsel Rick Kaplan told lawmakers, 678 TV towers affected by the repack are shared with FMs.
The impact on those FMs “could be significant,” he said. “When tower climbers go up, FMs have to power down for safety reasons. Radio stations aren’t going to be able to operate as usual,” he said, adding some may have to go off the air entirely to accommodate the TV tower work.
They needed to do so in 2009, during TV’s digital transition, but much of that work took place overnight. That can’t happen this time because of the compressed time-frame, Kaplan said.
Many TV stations need to change channels within a year, well before the 39-month deadline, both Kaplan and Patrick Butler, president and chief executive officer of America’s Public Television Stations, told lawmakers. The situation means radio stations co-located on a TV tower need to temporarily transmit from an auxiliary antenna. But FM costs are not included in the $1.75 billion reimbursement plan authorized by Congress and administered by the FCC.
That’s why Flores, along with fellow Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), introduced the “Radio Consumer Protection Act.” The Act creates a compensation fund for any station (be that AM, FM, non-commercial, or an FM translator) incurring costs due to the TV transition. If passed, the money would be available until the end of fiscal year 2022.
NAB praised the bill; NAB EVP Communications Dennis Wharton said it would, “help fulfill the promise to hold local broadcasters harmless during the incentive auction.”