FCC Seeks Comment On New Price Estimates For Compensating Broadcasters

The FCC is seeking input on a report that puts some actual numbers, at least estimates, on what it will cost to move and repack TV stations after the broadcast incentive auctions.

The commission released a public notice Thursday that seeks comment on the report it commissioned from outside contractor, Widelity, to help the FCC understand the processes and costs associated with the broadcaster transition. The report is in, and includes some estimated dollar numbers for the catalog of possible expenses the FCC released last year.

Now it wants broadcasters and others to comment on those numbers, which are not final and won't be until closer to the auction, though how close is unclear.

The dollar figures were arrived at after discussions with broadcast group engineers, suppliers, support companies, antenna manufacturers and others, says an FCC official speaking on background.

For a station moving from channel 50 to 15, for example, the estimate was $2,695,000. That broke down as $117,000 for administrative costs, $657,000 for a tower, $645,800 for the antenna and $1,375,000 for the transmitter.

The study outlines some of the challenges that broadcasters face and concludes that, while not every broadcaster will face these issues, the process will pose significant challenges to the industry, but that with help from the FCC, the process can be accomplished "with all of the desired outcomes." For broadcasters, that will mean, among other things,  fully compensated, and for the FCC that will mean, among other things, within budget.

There will be a lot of expenses to cover, but no way to know just how much it will cost until the FCC lets broadcasters know who will be moving, and where. Even the new cost estimates will not apply to all broadcasters, since some will be moving, some repacking, and not everyone will have the same expenses.

Since the auction is voluntary, the FCC won't know that information beforehand and will have to plan as best it can, given that built-in restraint.

Another constraint is the $1.75 billion congressional cap on reimbursement expenses.

Among the issues:

New tower ice and wind load standards that will affect changes to existing towers — akin to modifications on older homes that can trigger new building code requirements.

Zoning and permitting issues: Broadcasters argued that the FCC needs to preempt state and local zoning and permitting requirements to speed the process.

Interim facilities while broadcasters are moving channel positions: Some stations will need them to prevent going dark during the transition.

Translators: The FCC isn't paying for them in the repacking. But many stations use them to reach remote areas, particularly out west. David Donovan of the New York State Broadcasters Association, a veteran spectrum policy expert said New York has translator issues.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.