Congress should pass legislation to ensure access to local television and radio stations is not threatened following the broadcast spectrum incentive auction due to a lack of funds or unreasonable time constraints for station relocation.
When Congress authorized the broadcast spectrum incentive auction, broadcasters were assured that participation was voluntary and that non-participating stations would not be penalized.
To this end, Congress authorized a $1.75 billion Television Broadcaster Relocation Fund to cover the reasonable costs necessary to relocate, or repack, broadcasters to new channel assignments following this auction. Congress also included a three-year timeline for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reimburse broadcasters.
Since that time, the FCC has pursued a relocation plan that is likely to cost significantly more and take much longer than envisioned by Congress. The Commission also has imposed an arbitrary 39-month deadline by which television stations must complete their moves or go off the air, leaving viewers and listeners without access to critical information. Further complicating this complex transition, many towers that are home to television stations that must relocate are also home to radio stations. Repacking work could threaten listener access to these radio stations.
At the current spectrum clearing level, experts predict that more than 1,100 TV stations will need to relocate to new channel assignments during the repacking process. If this holds true, location costs could exceed the fund by more than $1 billion.
Matters outside of broadcasters’ control further complicate the process. There will be a small number of qualified crews for modifying broadcast towers, antennas and transmission lines and a shortage of antennas available for purchase. A shortage of manpower and transmission equipment could leave broadcasters unable to meet arbitrary FCC deadlines, jeopardizing stations’ ability to deliver the services and content viewers and listeners depend on – local news, emergency updates, sports and entertainment.
Viewers and listeners should not lose access to any local station due to arbitrary and unachievable deadlines set by the FCC, nor should stations be left to foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars simply because the Commission could not adhere to its congressionally set repacking budget.