The Federal Communications Commission announced proposed rules (MB Docket No. 18-214; GN Docket No. 12-268) to reimburse some FM stations, low-power TV stations and TV translators for costs resulting from the incentive auction, following up on a recent Congressional directive known as The 2018 Reimbursement Expansion Act.
According to the FCC announcement, the act “expanded the list of eligible entities to include LPTV, TV translator and FM stations, provided additional funds to be used for this purpose, increased the funds available to reimburse full power and Class A stations and MVPDs and provided funds to be used for consumer education purposes.” The statute also created a deadline of March 23, 2019, for the commission to adopt a Report and Order.
The NPRM says the reimbursement will be available for LPTV stations and TV translators, “if (1) they filed an application during the commission’s Special Displacement Window and obtained a construction permit, and (2) were licensed and transmitting for at least nine of the 12 months prior to April 13, 2017.”
Additionally, the order says the Media Bureau should engage a third-party contractor to assist in the administration of the fund and also directs the bureau to determine cost eligibility and the reimbursement process. However, “the Media Bureau will consult with the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Managing Director,” the order says.
The order also shares plans to use the $50 million provided by the REA for consumer education. According to the order, the commissioners “anticipate, among other initiatives, hosting a dedicated consumer service call center to provide consumers technical support and assistance on such matters as rescanning and other means to resolve potential reception issues. We also intend to perform targeted outreach to specific communities about rescanning, and we may use advertising spots to disseminate rescanning information. Consumer education funding could also be used in developing additional online resources...”
The NPRM also notes that the additional REA funds must be used no later than July 3, 2023.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement saying, “I’d like to thank Congress for passing legislation which provides additional reimbursement funds for full power and Class A stations, reimbursement funds for newly-eligible LPTV, TV translator, and FM stations, and funds for the commission to use for consumer education purposes.” Pai also thanked the commission staff who worked on the notice.
In his own statement, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly emphasized that he agrees with the reimbursement plans in general but thinks further input is needed before action. Specifically, he said, “While Congress carefully outlined how it intended FY18 monies to be spent, it provided less clarity for FY19. Should these funds be allocated similar to FY18 funds? Should television stations have priority? The answers to these questions will affect how interested parties are reimbursed for relocating during the repacking process...”
Additionally, O’Rielly questioned the validity of the “graduated reimbursement system” based on the idea that time equals money and asked for feedback and alternative proposed system(s) to allocate money.
O’Rielly also cautioned that the educational efforts should not duplicate “efforts undertaken by broadcasters or other stakeholders, or take on initiatives outside of [the commission’s] expertise, such as producing advertising spots.”
Finally, O’Rielly wrote, “I support edits in this item that will mitigate the use of delegated authority, as well as remove the tentative conclusion that third parties who made funding arrangements with LPTVs prior to the passage of REA are ineligible for funding.”
Commissioner Brendan Carr released his own statement: “This is an important step that will likely help keep many of these stations on the air and minimize disruptions in service associated with the repack. Today’s Notice begins the process of implementing those decisions. This additional funding will help keep diverse voices on the air and help the many rural and remote communities that rely on these stations for emergency alerts and information.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel did not release a statement, but the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (FCC 18-113) indicated her approval.
The NPRM “tentatively concludes that both full power FM stations and FM translators that were licensed and transmitting on April 13, 2017, using the facilities affected by a repacked television station, are eligible for reimbursement.” This includes “FM stations that incur costs to permanently relocate, temporarily or permanently modify their facilities, or purchase or modify auxiliary facilities to provide service during work on a repacked television station’s facilities.” Also, the NPRM recommends that the reimbursement process be “substantially similar to” that already used to reimburse full power and Class A licensees and MVPDs.
The National Association of Broadcasters previously expressed support for reimbursing stations affected by the repack.
In response to this R&O, NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton released a statement saying, “Earlier this year, Congress wisely authorized additional funding to ensure that tens of millions of Americans will not lose access to news, entertainment and lifeline information during the broadcast industry ‘spectrum repack.’ NAB is encouraged by the FCC proposal adopted today that closely mirrors the intent of Congress. NAB will be actively engaged during the rulemaking process to preserve live and local broadcasting on hometown radio and television stations, low power TV stations and TV translators.”