Congress should pass legislation to ensure viewers’ access to local television 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 without access to critical information.
At the current spectrum clearing level, experts predict that more than 1,100 stations will need to relocate to new channel assignments during the repacking process. If this holds true, repacking costs could exceed the broadcast relocation fund by over $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 depend on – local news, emergency updates, sports and entertainment.
Viewers should not lose access to the local stations they rely on 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.