House E&C Ready To Discuss Repack Fund


The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a markup for Wednesday afternoon (2/14) that will include a reauthorization of the FCC — and an amendment that would establish an all-important repack fund “to address the apparent shortfall in funding available.”

The session scheduled for 3:30pm Eastern will see the power House E&C Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), consider three bills.

  • H.R. 1876, the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act of 2017, would shield health care professionals from liability when they volunteer their services during a federally declared disaster.

  • H.R. 3477, the Ceiling Fan Energy Conservation Harmonization Act

  • H.R. 4986, the FCC Reauthorization Act of 2018

The bill is authored by Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Passed by a voice vote on Oct. 11 at the subcommittee level, the proposed legislation includes process reforms to ensure the FCC continues to improve its efficiency and transparency.

What it will now include, by way of a substitute amendment, is a provision that sets up new relocation funds for translators, low-power television, and radio stations that will be impacted by the post-spectrum auction repack process. These funds would be supplemented by a consumer education fund.

Repack funds are a key concern for impacted broadcasters. Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) will likely play an outsized role in the markup process.

With TV broadcasters already requesting “significantly more” than the $1.75 billion set aside to cover all costs related to the post-FCC Incentive Auction repack process, Pallonne — the top Democrat on the House E&C Committee — in July 2017 introduced legislation that would create a $1 billion emergency fund.

This legislation, the “Viewer Protection Act,” establishes an additional fund in the U.S. Treasury “to ensure consumers do not lose access to over-the-air broadcast television as a result of the reorganization of broadcast television spectrum, and for other purposes” tied to the repack.

Rather than vote on the act independently from the FCC’s reauthorization, Republican leaders are now signaling that they prefer to incorporate legislation on the matter in a comprehensive Commission bill to present to the Senate.

In addition to a $1 billion emergency fund, the Viewer Protection Act would:

  • Fund a $90 Million Viewer Education Effort, giving the FCC authorization to conduct an outreach campaign to consumers to inform and educate them about changes resulting from the broadcast TV incentive auction channel reassignments.
  • Assist Low Power TV Stations, by allowing the Commission to use any leftover money from the Viewer Protection Fund to assist low power TV stations that are displaced due to the full-power TV station reorganization.
  • Give Leeway in Transition Periods, by requiring the FCC to delegate authority to the Media Bureau to both modify the transition periods for the relocation of TV stations in order to ensure that stations are not forced to stop broadcasting due to reasons outside of their control, and impose appropriate penalties for any station that fails to complete its relocation within the transition period.

The NAB wants Pallone’s bill to see the light of day.

“As FCC Chairman Pai made clear during yesterday’s hearing, the Commission’s $1.75 billion fund is simply insufficient to fairly reimburse those broadcasters forced to relocate channels in order to accommodate the incentive auction,” NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said at the time of its emergence. “Ranking Member Pallone’s legislation addresses this shortfall, and further ensures that millions of TV viewers and radio listeners retain access to local news, weather, sports and emergency weather warnings during and after the repack.”

As of 7am on July 14, 2017, the aggregate amount of the estimated costs reported by reimbursement-eligible entities was exactly $2,115,328,744.33, Jean Kiddoo, Chair of the
FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, reported.

The Incentive Auction Task Force and the Media Bureau on Oct. 16, 2017 affirmed the initial allocation of $1 billion in the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.

One month earlier, at a September 2017 Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing focused on the post-FCC Spectrum Auction repack process, and its “opportunities and challenges,” the plight of broadcast TV companies faced with financial and timeframe concerns put one Nashville media executive in the center of attention.

WTVF-5 GM Lyn Platinga shared just what WTVF parent The E.W. Scripps Co. will likely spend on the repack process.

Noting that out-of-pocket costs and viewer disruption are key concerns, as this “undermines our ability to serve our community,” Platinga said WTVF’s move will require the purchase and installation of a new transmitter, a new primary antenna, and an interim antenna.

How much will Scripps’ bill be for that?

“We estimate these equipment and labor costs will total $4.1 million for our station alone,” Platinga noted. “While this is a high number, it is not atypical.”

Of Scripps’ 33 local television stations, 17 will be moving channels—including those in Tampa, Buffalo, and Detroit, Platinga said.

The repack costs for these 17 stations is estimated to be $55 million.

Platinga was joined at the September 2017 hearing by Patrick Butler, CEO of America’s Public Television Stations. Throughout the hearing, Butler emphasized how every dollar counts for noncommercial TV stations, and that for the 149 public television stations being repacked, the funding deficiency is more than $50 million.

This is in addition to the roughly $270 million which repacking public stations are
scheduled to receive from the original $1.75 billion fund, Butler said.


Here’s How To Get TV Repack, Incentive Auction Payments

The FCC late Thursday released its procedures for submitting financial information required for the disbursement of incentive payment and reimbursement payments after Wednesday’s of the Spectrum Auction, and it’s a 109-section document full of details on what to do. Here are some of the key highlights on what your TV stations may need to do.