This article originally appeared in Broadcasting & Cable.
According to sources, broadcasters — and specifically the National Association of Broadcasters — have been looking for some help from Congress on the broadcast incentive auction, including on getting a little more money for the broadcast relocation fund.
That is the fund that will cover expenses for broadcasters giving up spectrum to get out of the business or share with another station, plus some for cable operator expenses in repositioning their headends.
In the incentive auction legislation, Congress earmarked $1.75 billion for the fund. The FCC has rebuffed broadcaster efforts to make that a budget rather than a cap. Broadcasters wanted the FCC only to reclaim as much spectrum from TV stations as it could relocate within that $1.75 billion, but the FCC has signaled it will not hold itself to that figure, though it will take steps to minimize expenses to try and keep within it.
But NAB is not taking any chances, said one source, looking to appropriations committees, for one, to try and get language freeing up some more money, particularly given that an earlier spectrum auction — AWS-3, which raised over $40 billion — has essentially paid for all the items — R&D, an interoperable first responder broadband network (FirstNet) — FCC spectrum auctions were required to cover out of their proceeds per the legislation, with plenty left over to pay down debt.
“We have been warning members of Congress for months that the $1.75 B repacking reimbursement fund will be inadequate,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, “particularly with the FCC projecting it may repack more than 1,000 TV stations.”
“We don’t believe members of Congress intended for broadcasters to pay out of pocket as much as $1 billion just to stay in business. NAB estimates that total repacking costs could top $2.6B. “We’ve had numerous conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Wharton, “and we believe we are making progress in our education efforts.”