LPTVs, FMs Get $150 Million in Repack Bucks

The FCC has voted to allocate $150 million in funding to help low power TV and FM radio stations in the post-incentive auction TV station repack already in progress. Congress had directed it to add them to the funding list, but left it up to the FCC's expertise to say how.

That came in a Media Bureau Report and Order on the Reimbursement Expansion Act. Congress required the FCC to complete the item by March 23, 2019.

Congress did not initially allocate funds for LPTVs and TV translators, who are not protected from displacement in the repack, and FM stations, some of whom also have expenses because they are co-located on towers with moving TVs. Congress did not take those expenses into account either in the initial auction legislation, confining reimbursements to full-power TV's, class A's and MVPDs (for re-tuning headends to capture the frequency changes as broadcasters moved).

The new money, both more for the original recipients and the new money for LPTV's, translators, and FMs was included in the RAY BAUMS Act FCC reauthorization legislation passed last year, which freed up as much as a billion more dollars, if/as needed, on top of the $1.75 billion that FCC had concluded would not quite cover it.

Specifically, the FCC will:

•"Prioritize payments to full powers, Class As, and MVPDs over those to LPTV/translator and FM entities.

• "Conclude that LPTV/translator stations are eligible for reimbursement if: (1) they filed an application during the Commission’s Special Displacement Window and obtained a construction permit, and (2) they were licensed and transmitting for at least 9 of the 12 months prior to April 13, 2017, as required by the REA.

• "Conclude that the Commission will reimburse LPTV/translator stations for their reasonable costs to construct the facilities authorized by the grant of the station’s Special Displacement Window application.

"• Conclude that full power and low power FM stations and FM translators that were licensed and transmitting on April 13, 2017, using the facilities impacted by the repacked television station are eligible

for reimbursement under the REA. This includes FM stations that incur costs because they must permanently relocate, temporarily or permanently modify their facilities, or purchase or modify auxiliary facilities to provide service during a period of time when construction work is occurring on a collocated, adjacent, or nearby repacked television station’s facilities."

FCC chair Ajit Pai called it an important process for reimbursing "legitimate" expenses, but made a point of saying it would protect against waste, fraud and abuse.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks called it a good example of good government working as intended, with Congress appropriating new funds and the FCC moving swiftly to adopt a way to do that.

Most of a thousand TV stations are moving in a 10-phase repack as the FCC frees up the spectrum for wireless carriers who won the rights to the TV spectrum in the incentive auction. The FCC is compensating them for new equipment, tweaked equipment and moving costs. The first phase ended Nov. 30 actually ahead of schedule in that more stations had moved by that date than had to. The second phase ends next month.

“It is a huge vote of confidence and worthiness that Congress authorized $150 million for LPTV and TV translator relocation funding," said Mike Gravino, director of the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, of the new funding. "While our part of the industry is considered a secondary service, in many smaller communities, LPTV and translators are the ONLY source of free broadcast television services. Combined with the LPTV EAS (emergency alert services) requirement, LPTV, with this Congressional funding, will continue to keep this essential lifeline service available through the country. We thank the FCC Commissioners, Media Bureau, and Video Division for their diligent work to both fairly and timely implement the Congressional funding directive.”

Gravino and company have long called for LPTVs and translators to be included in the repack reimbursement given that they also provide important local programming, so it is a victory for his coalition as well.

"One year ago, Congress authorized the FCC to reimburse additional TV and radio stations that are incurring expenses associated with this repack, including LPTV stations. So we implement Congress’s decision with today’s Order," said FCC commissioner Brendan Carr. "The additional funding Congress provided is particularly important in rural and remote communities that rely on these stations for emergency alerts and information, as well as the diverse voices represented among these stations."

“NAB appreciates the efforts of FCC staff to expeditiously implement rules to protect viewers and listeners during the repack," said National Association of Broadcasters EVP Dennis Wharton. "Under a tight timeline, the staff worked incredibly hard to reach a balanced outcome that is as fair as possible given the challenges presented by the repack. We are committed to working with the Commission to ensure that tens of millions of viewers and listeners do not lose radio and TV service as the repack continues.”

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.