As the repacking of the TV band proceeds after the Incentive Auction, the FCC has issued some guidance as to what comes next for TV stations. Obviously, in the near future, TV stations that agreed to surrender their spectrum in the auction will get notice from the FCC to expect their payments from the proceeds collected from the wireless companies that purchased the repackaged surrendered TV spectrum. For stations that are remaining in operation, who last week were required to file construction permit applications for their repacking to the smaller TV band, and their estimates of the expenses that they will incur in the repacking process, the FCC published an article on its blog, here, setting out what is next. The article notes that 25 stations will be filing soon in a new window for stations that either cannot construct on the channels that they were assigned by the FCC, or need expanded facilities to replicate their existing coverage. After that window, there will be another window when the remaining repacked stations can file to maximize their facilities on their new channels. Following those two windows, there will be a window for LPTV stations and TV translators who were displaced by the auction to file for new channels (see our post on that window here).
The other big question is the funds necessary for repacking. The FCC issued a news release last week, here, indicating that the total amount that TV stations and MVPDs estimated that they will need to deal with the repacking is $2,115,328,744.33 – significantly over the $1.75 billion allocated by Congress to reimburse these entities for the repacking. While last week’s FCC blog post notes that the initial estimates will be subject to FCC review and some costs may be disallowed, there is some speculation that Congress will intervene to increase the allowable reimbursement. Commissioner O’Rielly issued a statement, here, urging such action, noting that “no broadcaster or MVPD, nor their viewers or listeners, should be harmed by the repack process.”
Should Congressional relief be sought, this would also be the appropriate time to seek assistance for FM stations located on TV towers who might themselves experience costs from the repacking (see our article here). At this point, there is no provision in the law providing for reimbursement of expenses incurred by FM stations for the costs they incur due to the effects of the TV repacking process. There are other issues also still pending before the FCC in connection with the repacking, including the NAB’s request to reconsider certain aspects of the repacking timetable, and the request by some tech companies that additional TV channels be set aside in each market for unlicensed wireless (“white spaces”) uses. So there are many moving pieces for broadcasters to watch as details of the repacking process play out over the next few months. Broadcasters need to stay alert to these developments.