FCC makes another $68.1 million available for broadcasters’ transition costs
The clearing and repacking of 600 MHz spectrum in the wake of the incentive auction is ahead of schedule, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The commission made another $68.1 million available to support broadcasters’ transition costs, as they either go off-air, share channels or shift to different ones.
The FCC’s Media Bureau said in an update that the spectrum clearing and repack “is off to a very strong start on all counts … . Significant progress has been made, and the transition is ahead of schedule both in terms of the number of stations that have already vacated their pre-auction channels and the amount of 600 MHz spectrum that has been cleared and therefore made available for use by wireless auction winners. … This deployment is now a reality in many places and is underway in many others.”
The bureau noted T-Mobile US’ ongoing build-out of 600 MHz spectrum as evidence of that reality; the carrier made major investments in 600 MHz in the incentive auction and has been touting the low-band spectrum as a foundation for its future 5G network. The incentive auction, the FCC noted, repurposed 84 megahertz of television spectrum for wireless use and raised nearly $20 billion. A 39-month, 10-phase transition period was set for stations to shut down or be repacked. The FCC said that 41 stations permanently went off-air as a result of the auction, and 104 others have implemented or are implementing channel-sharing arrangements, with another 30 broadcasting on new channels.
The first of those 10 phases is complete: all of the stations that were assigned a date of November 30, 2018 to complete their transition successfully did so, the FCC reported, adding that “a significant number of transitioning stations were granted permission … to change channels ahead of schedule” and some of the stations assigned to phase two have already transitioned ahead of the next deadline, which is April 12. The FCC said that as of this week, 172 of the 987 repacked stations, or 17%, have vacated their pre-auction channels, and that it was “optimistic” that upcoming phases will also meet their deadlines.
Broadcasters initially estimated their transition costs at $2.14 billion; after FCC review of those estimates, the reimbursement fund was set at $1.86 billion, with an initial allocation of $1 billion set aside in October of 2017. The bureau later added another $742 million to the total, bringing it to $1.883 billion — which amounted to 92.5% of each entity’s verified cost estimates. Eventually that was adjusted down to $1.744 billion, although the FCC noted that it expects costs to rise during the transition period as stations move from estimated to actual costs. The Media Bureau said in its update that while most of the stations haven’t come close to using up their allocation, some are on track to meet or exceed their estimated costs, so it has made available another $68.1 million for 316 stations to put them back in line with having 92.5% of their costs covered. The estimated costs are now at $1.9 billion and the total of all allocations is $1.808 billion.