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Noncoms Seek More Money, Flexibility From FCC

Say it is untenable to make stations 'float' 38 percent of repack expenses

WASHINGTON—Top PBS executives have been lobbying the FCC for more incentive auction repack money, and to get out from under the mandatory simulcast conditions on the rollout of the ATSC 3.0 next-gen broadcast transmission standard.

That is according to FCC filings documenting a meeting between PBS president Paula Kerger and other senior execs with Republican commissioner Brendan Carr and his staff.

Kerger and company said the FCC needs to acknowledge the post-incentive auction repack will cost closer to $2.5 billion, which is more than the FCC has so far estimated.

Congress will need to free up some additional money—there is currently a bill that would do so—but PBS said the FCC needs to “clearly acknowledge the full extent of the potential shortfall,” which it said exceeds the $1.86 billion and $2.14 billion figures the FCC has previously released—Congress only set aside $1.75 billion.

[10-phase transition (phase one moves must be completed by Nov. 30, 2018, only nine months away), and saying the FCC expects those stations to float 38 percent of the $21 million cost, which PBS called “completely untenable” for many.

PBS said the FCC’s gradual disbursements—two or three tranches plus a true-up at the end—have created too much budgeting uncertainty.

The FCC got initial broadcaster estimates of repack expenses in July 2017 totaling $2.115 billion, but that was before all those eligible for the money had weighed in, so it signaled it expected the number to go up. It did, to $2.139 billion in October when the FCC proceeded to review those asks. That review brought the figure down to $1.864 billion, but with the FCC expecting that to tick up again once broadcasters are actually moving.

The FCC handed out an initial outlay of $1 billion (a little over half of what commercial broadcasters are getting—about 52 percent—and 60 percent for noncoms) to cover initial costs, with the rest coming in a further tranche, or tranches.

The noncom execs also had a bone to pick with the FCC over the ATSC 3.0 voluntary rollout, which the FCC approved late last year.

The FCC is requiring stations to simulcast in the current ATSC 1.0 standard during the voluntary transition to ATSC 3.0—the new standard is not backward-compatible with existing sets. But PBS said its stations will, because they are nonprofits with a mission to serve, naturally do what is in the best interests of their viewers and need no such mandate, which would prevent them from pursuing “customized” approaches.