TV Spectrum Auction Update for Public Radio Stations

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August 27, 2018

This is an update about the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed plan for reimbursing radio stations for the effects of the TV spectrum repack. We need your assistance.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently proposed rules for reimbursing radio stations affected by the TV spectrum repack and new channel assignments. The FCC proposed different levels of reimbursement for different categories of radio stations, along with a number of rules for eligible costs.  

Please complete this survey at https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4532607/2018-TV-Repack-Impact-for-Public-Radio if your station shares a tower with a repacked TV station or is affected by the TV repack. We’ll use the information about how your station is impacted and your best estimate of anticipated costs in our interactions with the FCC to maximize reimbursement for affected public radio stations. The deadline for completion is September 7. (Even if you responded to our survey last winter, please complete this new survey too, because the updated information we’re seeking reflects the new FCC proposal).

Background. The FCC’s recent spectrum auction for television frequencies didn’t involve radio broadcast spectrum, but the TV repacking process can affect radio stations if their transmitter antennas are located on or near a transmission tower for a repacked TV station. Earlier this year, Congress authorized an additional $1 billion funding over two years to reimburse broadcasters affected by the TV repack and, for the first time, authorized reimbursement for radio stations, LPTV stations and translators. Congress directed the FCC to reimburse “costs reasonably incurred” by a radio broadcast station for facilities necessary “to reasonably minimize disruption of service” as a result of the TV repack. Congress prohibited reimbursement for “lost revenues” and prohibited duplicative payments if radio stations have received payment for interim facilities by another source. 

We have updated our FAQ on the FCC proposed plan, and you can view it here.

FCC Proposed Rules. The FCC proposed the following types of eligible radio stations and reimbursable expenses:

  • Radio stations forced to vacate their towers, relocate their antennas to a different level of their current towers, temporarily dismantle equipment, or make other equipment changes to permit work on a TV antenna/tower or to accommodate new TV transmission equipment would be reimbursed up to 100%. Eligible costs include: equipment to replicate or restore service, costs to move equipment, tower and construction work, and related professional services (such as engineering). Stations would be required to reuse their own equipment to the extent possible, and would not be reimbursed for new, optional features that aren’t in the equipment being replaced.
  • Radio stations forced to temporarily reduce power or go off air to protect workers and accommodate antenna or tower modifications could incur costs to build new auxiliary facilities or to modify existing auxiliary facilities to permit continued broadcasting while primary facilities are off the air. The FCC proposes to reimburse such costs only if they’re needed to avoid service interruptions that exceed ordinary construction or maintenance requirements. Notably, the FCC proposes a graduated priority system of reimbursement based on the time of day and number of days the station is off air due to the repack:
    • Stations off-air less than 24 hours, off-air only during hours from 10:00 p.m.– 6:00 a.m., or off-air less than five non-peak broadcast hours per day:  No reimbursement.
    • Stations off-air for 24 hours to 10 days:  Reimbursed up to 50% of eligible costs.
    • Stations off-air for 11 days to 30 days: Reimbursed up to 75% of eligible costs.
    • Stations off-air for more than 30 days:  Reimbursed up to 100% of eligible costs.

The FCC proposes that 80% of the station’s coverage area or covered population should be replicated by the interim facility to constitute “reasonably minimal disruption” of service (stating that near-exact replication of a station’s coverage area from an alternative site in most cases would be too expensive).

If the station is required to lease tower space for a new auxiliary facility, only tower lease payments during the period when the repack construction work is actively preventing the radio station from broadcasting from its primary facility would be reimbursed. Radio translators are not eligible to apply for auxiliary facilities, but would be eligible for reimbursement requesting either a temporary facility modification or special temporary authorization to broadcast from an interim site.

Under the FCC proposed rules, radio stations seeking reimbursement would have to file a number of forms and supporting documents to certify eligibility, estimate costs, and seek reimbursement, a process that could be complicated and time-consuming. The FCC is considering prioritizing reimbursement of certain costs, such as equipment and engineering expenses, over other types of expenses, such as project management fees, in case there aren’t sufficient funds to cover all eligible expenses.

Thank you for your help with the survey! Please contact us [prsshelp@npr.org or 1-800-971-7677] if you have any questions or comments.

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TV Spectrum Auction Update for Public Radio Stations
 
The FCC’s Broadcast Spectrum Auction may bring changes to your station, even if your licensee did not (or could not) participate in it. The “mandatory repack” of spectrum following the auction may involve some big changes on the towers used by television stations that took part in the auction. In some cases, these are the same towers being used by some radio-only stations.  (For more information about the spectrum auction, please visit CPB’s website: http://www.cpb.org/spectrum
 
If your antenna is on – or near – a tower used by a television station that took part in the auction, there are a variety of temporary or permanent challenges your station may encounter, ranging from losing tower space to needing to plan around downtime as technicians do work on public television equipment that shares a tower with your radio equipment. There may be some unexpected challenges for all stations, such as a likely scarcity of technicians to work on your antenna during the repack period, as the demand for public television antenna work will be high. In the spirit of no surprises, it is important for every station to understand whether its antenna may be affected.
 
To help you, we have gotten permission to share a report on this topic that was commissioned by the CPB and completed by the firm of Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace, LLC. It has been posted to PRSS.org along with a helpful FAQ that covers some of the main points: 

Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace Report: http://www.prss.org/sites/prss/files/documents/CPB/CPB_REPORT_AUCTION_IMPACT_RADIO_020217.pdf

Report FAQ: http://prss.org/sites/prss/files/documents/CPB/TV-Repack-FAQs_4-13-2017.pdf

Please look at the documentation along with your engineering staff and feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns that these materials do not address. We will continue to update you on spectrum auction matters as needed, and hope you keep us in the loop on developments related to your station and your signal.  

Michael Beach, VP for Distribution, NPR
Michael Riksen, VP for Policy and Representation, NPR
 

Posted: February 14, 2017