Wheeler: FCC May Have to Prioritize Repack Reimbursements

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told a pair of senators that he thinks the $1.75 billion Congress set aside for broadcaster relocation—and some cable headend-retuning—expenses after the incentive auction will be enough, but that if it is not, the FCC will have to do some triage if Congress does not step in with more money.

In a letter to Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Wheeler said: "If future developments suggest that the $1.75 billion Reimbursement Fund will be insufficient to cover all eligible costs, the Commission has delegated authority to the Bureau to develop a prioritization scheme for reimbursement claims."

The odds on Wheeler being right about the $1.75 billion covering the expenses got better this week. The FCC is having to clear less spectrum since it was not able to get forward auction bidders to cover the cost of paying broadcasters to give up the 126 MHz they were willing to part with—for over $86 billion.

Wheeler told the senators, as he has told Congress before, that he would be alerting Congress if it looked like the FCC would need more money for the repack. 

Wheeler also said the FCC would do its best to give the senators an analysis of the $1.75 billion relocation fund and 39-month transition window for TV station repacking within 105 days of the successful completion of the forward auction. But he pointed out that would be a tall order given that the deadline comes only 15 days after broadcasters have to submit relocation reimbursement forms.

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.