Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, says Congress is going to have to find the money to make up the difference between the $1.75 billion allocated for the post broadcast incentive auction repack and what it is actually going to cost and that he is on the case.
Walden was speaking at the State of the Net conference in Washington.
He pointed out that in the original incentive auction legislation, which he was instrumental in drafting, the figure had been $3 billion, but was negotiated down between the political parties to $1.75 billion. "And now, guess what, the number is about $3 billion bucks. "We have to find money to make this up. We need to make this up not only to keep our word [that those not participating in the auction would be held as harmless as possible] but to grease the skids and get the repack done."
National of Broadcasters Chief Technology Officer Sam Matheny, who told the Senate Commerce Committee last week at a hearing that the new estimate of the broadcasters' price tag for the move is about $3 billion.
Walden said he was working hard to figure out the funding stream and make any other "associated changes." He called the 39-month repack a tight timeline. "We need all this to stay on track and work," he said, including for the wireless nets waiting to access the spectrum and noncommercial stations with funding issues. He said he was "shoulder to shoulder" with ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) about finding the money.
Pallone has long pushed for more money for broadcasters, but as a way to insure viewers are held as harmless as possible in the move. Bills have been introduced in both the House (Pallone's own bill) and Senate to boost funding.
The FCC got initial broadcaster estimates back in July totaling $2.115 billion, but that was before all those eligible for the money had weighed in, so it signaled it expected the number to go up. It did, to $2.139 billion in October when the FCC reviewed of those asks. That review brought the figure down to $1.864 billion, but with the FCC expecting that to tick up again once broadcasters are actually moving.
The FCC handed out an initial outlay of $1 billion (a little over half of what commercial broadcasters are getting--about 52%--and 60% for noncoms) to cover initial costs, with the rest coming in a further tranche, or tranches.
That does not include the cost of moving LPTVs or translators, which will incur costs--likely hundreds of millions--but were not included in the $1.75 billion repack fund, something Walden has previously signaled his concerns about.
NAB had not commented on that $3 billion figure at press time, but it likely included those LPTV and translator moves, as well as experiences of some radio stations, whose costs were also not included in the $1.75 billion fund.
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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.