How much can I receive? And what’s covered?
Those are the questions that radio broadcasters impacted by the TV band repack can now get answers to when it comes to being reimbursed by the federal government.
At its March Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission released a new Report and Order that concluded that FM broadcast stations, television translators and LPTVs are eligible for reimbursement if their facilities have been affected by a repacked television station (assuming the stations have been in operation for the prescribed amount of time).
The FCC formally released a catalog on March 18 that details potentially reimbursable costs for these three groups.
Last March, Congress appropriated $1 billion in funding as part of the 2018 Reimbursement Expansion Act (REA). Of the $600 million available in FY 2018 and $400 million in FY 2019, the REA clarifies that not more than $50 million be used to reimburse FM broadcast stations. For TV, the REA noted that not more than $150 million be used to reimburse LPTV and TV translator stations.
To help broadcasters keep track of what is potentially reimbursable, the Incentive Auction Task Force at the FCC released a catalog for these three groups. Specifically, the FCC adopted rules to reimburse both hard and soft expenses for FM stations who must replace or modify equipment as well as stations that must construct or upgrade auxiliary facilities in order to minimize disruption of service. Hard expenses include new equipment and tower rigging; soft expenses include legal and engineering services.
The goal of the cost catalog is to give stations a list of cost ranges for use as estimates when stations do not have vendor quotes, and to help them establish acceptable price ranges. These provide guidance only, the FCC clarified — they do not serve as price caps and stations can submit additional cost justification documentation if needed, the report said.
Limiting the options for radio stations was a concern expressed by National Public Radio early on in the discussion. NPR expressed general concern that an earlier version of the catalog limits the range of equipment and services that is potentially reimbursable.
“We reiterate that the cost catalog is a nonexhaustive list of equipment and services,” the report said. “It is intended to serve as a reference guide that will add structure to the process of claiming reimbursement by identifying the types of equipment and services that are most commonly required to construct new broadcast facilities, as well as their price ranges.”
For those pieces of equipment or services not specifically listed in the catalog, the reimbursement form provides flexibility for users to claim reimbursement for such reasonably incurred expenses.
This final version of the cost catalog also includes other changes, such as the modification requested by NPR that the initial price range proposed in the draft cost catalog for “lease negotiations or other legal matters” for FM stations should be equivalent with the range for LPTV and translator stations. That change is included in the final version of the catalog.
The FCC also amended the catalog to add a line for FM stations looking to purchase a combined HD importer/exporter, a relatively new product that combines an HD radio importer and exporter into one unit.
The commission also added a broader range of program management and consulting costs as part of the existing professional services category since “local public radio stations are likely to need ‘legal, engineering and consulting services to assist with overall planning, determining the specific steps needed to minimize disruption, and procuring equipment, labor and services,’” the report said.
The FCC also updated the catalog amounts for filing fees associated with certain Media Bureau applications that LPTV, translator and FM stations may need to file to implement the facilities changes required to remain on the air during the TV spectrum repack.