An FM transmitter can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $354,800 and FM antennas run from $1,200 to $47,200. The cost of having a transmitter installed can cost from $11,000 to $130,000. Those are just some of the ranges the Federal Communications Commission has created as a preliminary outline for how much FM broadcasters would be reimbursed as part of the ongoing television repack process.
The FCC has released the catalog of proposed reimbursement amounts to be paid from the $1 billion fund created by Congress earlier this year to help FM radio stations, low-power television stations, and TV translators recoup their expenses. The FM Broadcast Station Relocation Fund includes at least $50 million that would help owners of FMs and FM translators build back-up facilities to remain on the air while engineers are working on a co-located TV antenna. The question about whether FMs were to get $50 million in both fiscal 2018 and 2019, or that total combined, remains unanswered. But the process of how to calculate how much of station expenses will be reimbursed is advancing.
Based on the sort of expenses broadcasters said they expect to incur, the Media Bureau’s proposed FM Cost Catalog includes categories and descriptions of expenses that the agency believes FM stations are most likely to incur as a result of television stations taking on new channel assignments. It was compiled using a third-party contractor who surveyed industry vendors about what the potential costs of equipment and services would be. The outline includes both “hard” expenses, such as new equipment and tower rigging bills that stations would face, as well as “soft” expenses, such as legal and engineering services. The FCC has also proposed that only stations on the air as of April 13, 2017 would be eligible for the money, concluding that any station that signed on after that knew about the repack and could take steps to prepare.
Not unlike anyone using health insurance, the catalog proposes what reimbursement to stations would be provided. But unlike most health policies, any expenses that go beyond that limit wouldn’t necessarily be paid out-of-pocket. Instead, the FCC would require a station to provide documentation proving why their project costs more than the range in the catalog. The same applies for any unlisted equipment or services. A station would simply need to submit estimates and invoices for such costs, together with cost justification documentation, in order to be reimbursed.
The catalog has been released and the FCC has begun seeking comments on whether any types of expenses are missing. It’s also looking for feedback on the price ranges included in the catalog.
Other issues still remain in the repack reimbursement process. The National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio have both urged the Commission to abandon any plans to use a sliding scale based on the amount of a time a station would be off the air for determining how much reimbursement the FM would receive. Under the current timetable, the FCC is required to create reimbursement rules for FMs and low-power TV stations by March 23, 2019. After that, stations will begin submitting cost estimates.