March 26, 2020 - 12:15 pm
By Jean Kiddoo | Chair, Incentive Auction Task Force
Hillary DeNigro | Deputy Chair, Incentive Auction Task Force

During these uncertain times when local TV broadcasters are reporting that they are facing financial challenges arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and yet still playing a vital role in making critical healthcare information available to their viewers, we thought it appropriate to provide an update on the status of the post-Incentive Auction transition. We are pleased to share the good news that we today announced an initial allocation of over $87 million from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund for low power television (LPTV) and TV translator (together LPTV/Translator) stations. This allocation enables us to begin reimbursing approved invoices submitted by eligible LPTV/Translator stations displaced by the Incentive Auction for costs they have incurred related to the construction of new or modified facilities.

Repacked TV stations have been working hard since the auction closed in April 2017 to assure that the post-Incentive Auction transition has kept on schedule. We are in the 9th phase of a 10-phase transition. 848 out of 987 total repacked TV stations nationwide (over 85%) have already vacated their pre-auction channels, over 82% of those using permanent facilities. As a result, T-Mobile has reported that it has already been able to commence operation on much of its nationwide 600 MHz spectrum covering 200 million people, with some of that spectrum being used to provide 5G. In addition, consistent with the Commission’s efforts to keep Americans connected during the coronavirus pandemic, the Commission recently granted T-Mobile authority to use additional spectrum in the 600 MHz band licensed to other carriers as a result of the Incentive Auction to help it add capacity that will allow Americans to participate in telehealth, distance learning, and telework, and to remain socially connected while practicing important social distancing.

TV and radio stations are also playing a crucial part in assuring that Americans stay connected to local and national news and alerts during these difficult times, and we recognize that construction, delivery, and other delays to their transition efforts may occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, while we’ve already had some phase 9 stations complete their transitions notwithstanding these challenges, we recently advised repack TV stations assigned to phase 9 that if a station believes it can’t meet the May 1, 2020, deadline, we will grant it a waiver to the phase 10, July 3 deadline. Importantly, however, while there may be a construction delay for some stations, our Fund Administrator and staff have continued to process and approve invoices from all eligible full power and Class A repack stations and FM stations promptly so that they are reimbursed for their eligible costs without any delay during these uncertain times.

With our most recent action today, we will now be able to commence reimbursement payments to certain LPTV/Translator stations who were displaced by the rebanding and repacking process as a result of the Incentive Auction and commencement of service by forward auction winners. We received 947 eligibility submissions from LPTV/Translator stations and, together with our Fund Administrator, determined that 844 satisfy the statutory eligibility criteria. The aggregate reimbursement demand for all the LPTV/Translator stations that filed estimates was $164,922,143, and the verified total amount of estimates for stations determined to be eligible was $102,437,198. Our initial allocation to each eligible LPTV/Translator station represents 85 percent of each station’s verified cost estimates in recognition of the fact that there are factors that may exert upward pressure on the total amount of verified cost estimates, and we will monitor closely the drawdown of the Fund as well as revisions to initial cost estimates to determine if additional allocations are warranted. It is therefore important that eligible LPTV/Translator stations seeking reimbursement timely submit invoices after incurring costs.

LPTV/Translator stations may immediately begin submitting documentation of actual expenses incurred for approval to be drawn down against their individual allocations by uploading invoices or receipts and resubmitting the reimbursement form in the Bureau’s Licensing and Management System. Invoices for actual expenses incurred that have already been submitted will also be reviewed and processed for payment upon approval. LPTV/Translator stations should also be aware that while there was no deadline for submission of Form 1876 banking instructions, payments cannot be made until a station’s Form 1876 has been approved – a process that can take several weeks.

Especially in these unprecedented times, we thank the broadcasting industry, equipment vendors, tower workers, and other partners for their hard work during the post-Incentive Auction transition. These efforts are an important element to accomplishing the Commission’s mission to align spectrum use with the 21st century consumer’s demand for wireless, 5G, and broadband services.