The Broadcast Incentive Auction reimbursement process begins to take shape.

Blog.form 2100 sked 399 lessonWe have reported on the FCC’s efforts to alert all would-be reverse auction participants to the ins and outs of Form 177. A less immediate, but no less important, learning opportunity involves the relocation reimbursement process. Since that won’t kick in until the auction is over, we all have a few months to get our arms around it. But now that the FCC has released its “final” form for seeking reimbursement, we may as well add “Review Schedule 399” to our to-do list.

Note that, while the Commission describes the currently available version of Schedule 399 as the “final” version, that version apparently hasn’t yet even been submitted to, much less approved by, OMB. Additionally, the FCC has indicated that it has yet to “finalize development of the on-line Form” and that it will “take into consideration the practical suggestions offered by commenters to enhance the functionality of the Form”. So there may still be some changes to come. But we can probably assume with some confidence that the main substantive portions of the form won’t be changing much, if at all.

The substantive portions consist, in effect, of a catalog of expenses that TV licensees and MVPDs will most commonly encounter as a result of the post-auction spectrum repack. The list is not spelled out in simple list form, however; rather, it’s “embedded” in the form. That means that you have to work your way through the form to determine which expenses are to be reimbursed and what information will be necessary to support a request for reimbursement in each category. The catalog is not necessarily exhaustive: each cost category includes an “other” entry so that each reimbursement applicant can include specific expenses not otherwise specified in the form.

Any station likely to be re-packed will eventually have to master the ins and outs of Schedule 399, but for now that’s not an urgent project. At this point stations don’t know exactly how the repack process will ultimately affect them, and until they do, they won’t know what their likely expenses will be. Still, a quick look-see through the form now wouldn’t hurt.

In connection with the release of Schedule 399, the Commission has announced an interesting and potentially important change in plans with respect to the reimbursement process. Initially the Commission had planned to use the U.S. Treasury’s Automated Standard Application for Payments (ASAP) system to get the money into the hands of stations seeking reimbursement. But that’s changed. Now the FCC plans to write the checks itself “via the agency’s internal vendor payment system”. The Commission figures that bringing this process in-house will be more efficient, easier and less expensive. And there’s an upside for broadcasters, too: they won’t need to enroll in Treasury’s ASAP system to get reimbursed. (The Commission is developing a “user portal” that will let reimbursement applicants to track their expense reimbursement history, as they would in the ASAP system.)

Applicants will be submitting reimbursement requests through the FCC’s LMS filing system. Requests will be filed on an ongoing basis as costs are incurred, i.e., not just at the beginning and end of the reimbursement period. Requests can be presented on an invoice-by-invoice basis, in which case the FCC will pay the vendor directly. Alternatively, applicants can pay expenses themselves and submit groups of claims in batches, in which case the FCC will reimburse the applicant for its out-of-pocket payments.

We still have a ways to go before the auction and the repack, but they are both coming for sure, and they will both entail elaborate and complicated chores for participants. To its credit, the Commission has repeatedly acknowledged this and it has promised both to design its systems to be as user-friendly as possible and to provide as much information about those systems to would-be participants as early as possible, to minimize any surprises. The materials described above are part of that effort. The Commission is clearly trying to make good on its promise. Potential auction and repack participants would be well-advised to take advantage of the FCC’s efforts.