Pai: Unless Congress Raises Cap, TV Pays for Upfront Repack Costs

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FCC Chairman Pai, and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly. Photos by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says “it’s too early to tell” whether the 39 months allotted for the broadcast repack into a smaller television spectrum band is enough time. Speaking before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the full Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Pai said the agency received more than $2.139 billion in cost estimates from broadcasters. The Commission believes the total will be below $2.2 billion.

“The repack costs will continue to change” as television owners actually move, said Pai, adding: “The FCC can’t say today exactly how much the repack will cost.” What is clear is the money needed will go above the $1.75 billion allotted by Congress. “Unless Congress acts to raise the cap, it’s likely local broadcasters will be required to pay upfront repack costs out of their own pocket,” said Pai.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Oregon Republican Greg Walden said that while lawmakers want to keep the repack on an “aggressive schedule, concerns remain about the sufficiency of the timeline and the budget. I take these concerns seriously,” said the former radio station owner, “to make sure broadcasters’ signals on their main channel and their translators are not adversely affected.”

Asked about Microsoft’s proposal to use a combination of white spaces, the unlicensed spectrum between television channels, fixed wireless and satellite to buildout mobile broadband, Pai said, the plan “is still in the early stages” of being studied by the Commission. The Chairman said he’s spoken with Microsoft about the project and “would like to work with all stakeholders to move forward.”

NAB opposes the plan, citing interference concerns. Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly told lawmakers they support the concept, however O’Rielly caveated he doesn’t favor “setting aside full power broadcast stations” in order to achieve it.

July 26, 2017      

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