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FCC Reauthorization Outlines FM Repack Funds

Commission would be tasked with reimbursing all “reasonably incurred” costs

Update: This bill has passed committee.

FM stations affected by the TV repack process would get some financial relief in a bill being marked up by the House Energy & Commerce Committee. The FCC Reauthorization Act of 2018 has been given some amendments designed to help and clarify the repack reimbursement process for both TV and radio stations.

One of the amendments would create a fund to handle an apparent shortfall in the $1.75 billion fund for broadcasters; and specifically for radio, the amendment clarifies that the FCC will be responsible for reimbursement of “reasonably incurred” costs by FM stations during the relocation process. This is something radio broadcasters have been hoping for.

A study commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters last year estimated that more than 600 FM stations could be affected by the repack — the process in which over 1,100 TV stations will change channels or, in some cases, go off the air. Many of the TV stations will require antenna replacements or other tower work that could take days or weeks. If an FM and a TV station share a common tower or are on nearby towers, the FM may have to reduce or turn off power.

How much money would be involved is not clear. One observer familiar with the process believes final amounts — and how they will be divided among full-power TV LPTV and FM — are still being negotiated but has heard figures discussed for FM in the $50 million to $100 million range.

The legislation language also states that the FCC would not be responsible for lost revenue during the repack; and that in addition, if an FM station receives payment from the license of a TV station that was reimbursed or from any other source, the station will not be reimbursed by the FCC.

Any of the funds not already designated for repack reimbursement after April 13, 2020, would be rescinded from the FM Station Relocation Fund and deposited in the U.S. Treasury’s general fund. However, those funds would continue to be made available if the FCC certifies to Congress that they are necessary to reimburse reasonably incurred costs.

If the FCC completes all of its reimbursement payments by July 3, 2022, the commission would submit certification of completion to the Secretary of the Treasury.

[Read more: “Repack Could Bring Significant Challenges,” Nov. 2017]

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith released a statement in support of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s actions: “NAB strongly backs passage of Ray Baum’s Act addressing the funding shortfall stemming from the spectrum auction ‘repack.’ Full-power TV and radio stations — along with low-power TV stations and TV translators — provide news, entertainment and lifeline programming to tens of millions of Americans every day.” He credited Chairmen Walden and Blackburn for “this thoughtful legislation,” and thanked Ranking Member Pallone “for his tireless support on a matter of critical importance to local media.” Smith said NAB continues to push for “sufficient funding to cover the cost of broadcaster repack relocation costs.”

[Read more about the overall legislation.]