We wrote last week about some of the upcoming issues on the FCC’s agenda for the very short term related to the TV incentive auction to clear part of the TV spectrum for use by wireless companies, and the subsequent “repacking” of the TV stations who do not sell their licenses in the auction into the new smaller TV band.  On Thursday, the FCC took a step to make that repacking somewhat more concrete – releasing a Public Notice where the FCC’s Media Bureau seeks comment on a draft TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund Reimbursement Form (the draft form is here, and draft instructions to the form can be found here).  This will be the form that broadcasters will use to claim payment from the government for the costs of the repacking.  The Bureau asks for comments on the draft Reimbursement Form.  The comments are due on October 27, 2014.

The form provides a checklist of likely expenses, asking for details of the equipment to be bought and other expenses to be incurred in making the transition, including both hardware costs and soft costs including the reimbursement of tower crews, consulting engineers and even broadcast attorneys for filing the necessary FCC forms.  Broadcasters should carefully review the draft form to make sure that it anticipates all categories of expected expenses that stations may incur in the repacking process.

Broadcasters (and MVPDs) will use the Reimbursement Form to submit: 

  • information needed to establish an account with the Department of Treasury for payment purposes;
  • an estimate of their eligible relocation costs;
  • actual cost documentation throughout the construction period, as they incur expenses; and their total expenses incurred.

After completion of the Incentive Auction, eligible entities will file the Reimbursement Form no later than three months following release of the FCC’s order setting the channels on which the stations will operate after the repacking.  On the form, stations will indicate whether they plan to modify current equipment or purchase new equipment and will identify the existing equipment that must be modified or replaced, and the services that they will use to implement these changes.  It will be interesting to see if broadcasters will feel that they can get such comprehensive estimates together within the 3 months after their channel assignments are made.

Stations will submit their overall estimate of the cost of completing their transition – within 3 months of learning the channel on which they will operate.  The FCC plans to advance funds to stations to meet these expenses – rather than forcing stations to pay for the expenses up front and getting reimbursement later.

Once stations actually start spending money, they will update the Reimbursement Form each time they seek reimbursement for an expense against their allocation.  All entities that receive an allocation also must submit a final Reimbursement Form showing their total expenses upon completing construction or by a specific deadline prior to the end of the three-year reimbursement, whichever is earlier.  Stations that still have outstanding expenses by that deadline must provide a final accounting of expenses on the Reimbursement Form upon completing the transition, even if this occurs after the end of the reimbursement period.

In addition to the comments on the form itself, the FCC seeks comments on confidentiality to be accorded to information that is filed on reimbursement costs.  Should, for instance, some specific data automatically be treated as confidential?  The Media Bureau will make public the amounts distributed from the Reimbursement Fund to each broadcaster and MVPD, but are there specific amounts out of the total reimbursement that should be kept private?

So take a look at the draft form, and file any comments by the October 27 deadline.