TV stations could be stuck with a big moving bill when the FCC rearranges the TV dial following the broadcast incentive auction of wireless spectrum planned for first quarter 2016.
Congress set aside $1.75 billion in the law to help stations pay for the cost of moving from one frequency to another.
But that may fall short by nearly a billion dollars if as many as 95 percent of TV stations end up being moved onto a new channel, according to a National Association of Broadcasters estimate using the FCC’s own methodology.
“It’s our fear that it may take as much as $2.6 billion to compensate all the TV stations that will be repacked….forcing TV stations to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket just to stay in business,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB’s executive vice president of communications.
Getting more money for repacking may ultimately fall to Congress.
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.) asked FCC chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing if there was anything the FCC could do about it.
“1.75 billion is the statutory number we have to live with… we can’t redirect funds,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.
We’ve asked the wireless industry to create an insurance fund… and they haven’t been interested in doing this,” Wheeler said. “If congress can help us with this, we’ll raise our hand and say we’d love to work with you on it,” he said.
Repacking costs is just one of sticking points the NAB has raised with the FCC over the spectrum auction. Broadcasters are also worried that the FCC’s auction rules fail to give stations the same coverage areas the signals reached prior to the auction, the subject of a lawsuit against the FCC that is currently waiting for a court decision.
Congress will turn back to the spectrum auction Thursday after a marathon series of hearings on the FCC’s net neutrality order. Ahead of the hearing, House commerce committee staff met with a number of groups, including Rick Kaplan, NAB’s executive vice president and general counsel, to talk about spectrum issues.