In adopting a Notice of Proposed Rule Making late last week, the FCC took the first step in establishing ground rules for reimbursing Low Power Television, TV translator and FM radio stations affected by the TV spectrum repack. Most of the proposed rules track the statutory direction contained in the Reimbursement Expansion Act (REA) adopted in March, but a few potentially controversial proposals were included as well.
The REA limited reimbursement eligibility for LPTV, TV translators and FM radio stations to stations that were licensed and operating on April 13, 2017. In addition, LPTV stations must establish that they were broadcasting for nine of the twelve months prior to April 13, 2017, which was the date the Incentive Auction officially ended. The FCC is seeking comment on what evidence it should request from licensees to substantiate their eligibility, including potentially requiring licensees to provide program guides and/or power bills.
The FCC is also seeking comment on guidelines for reimbursing licensees, focusing on both the types of expenses that should be reimbursed, and the process for licensees seeking reimbursement. For example, the REA limited eligibility to those LPTV and TV translators that filed a Special Displacement application, so the FCC proposed to limit the reimbursable expenses to just those relating to the displacement of such stations.
While it is likely that no FM radio stations will be permanently displaced as a result of the Incentive Auction, the FCC developed a three-tier proposal to reimburse FM stations for expenses to operate auxiliary stations instead of temporarily ceasing operations while tower work is done. The FCC noted that its rules permit stations to either power down or temporarily discontinue operations for less than thirty days without seeking advance authority, so the FCC proposes to limit reimbursement for constructing new or upgraded FM auxiliary facilities to those stations that will be off-air for extended periods of times.
Under the proposal, FM radio stations off-air for more than 30 days would receive reimbursement for 100% of their expenses to construct or modify existing auxiliary facilities, but stations off-air between 11 and 30 days would receive reimbursement for only 75% of their expenses, and stations expected to be off-air for 1-10 days would receive reimbursement for only 50% of their expenses. To be eligible for reimbursement, FM auxiliary facilities will need to cover 80% of the existing station’s geographic or population coverage.
While the FCC obviously intends to borrow heavily from the existing reimbursement process used by Class A and full-power television stations, it is clear that there are unique circumstances surrounding the reimbursement of expenses for LPTV, TV Translator and FM radio stations that will require further examination. Moreover, Commissioner O’Rielly noted in his separate statement that the FCC has proposed to allocate reimbursement funds based on the length of time that FM radio stations will be off air, but urged parties to submit alternative proposals if the FCC’s assumption that “time equals money” is incorrect.
Comment deadlines have not yet been established, but comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 30 days after the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 30 days after that date.