On Friday, March 23 President Trump signed a $1.3 trillion appropriations bill that will mean some significant changes to the broadcasting community. The 2,232-page omnibus bill not only includes an additional $1 billion for spectrum repack on top of the already $1.75 billion already allocated, but also changes how broadcasters are treated in terms of access to funding, resources and critical areas in cases of disasters.
To cut right down to the chase: this is good news for broadcasters all around.
Repack Funds. First, the bill authorizes $1 billion in additional funding to supplement and expand the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund for reimbursement of costs incurred by post-Incentive Auction repacking of full-power and Class A TV stations. $600 million is specifically allocated toward supplementing the $1.75 billion repack funds for these stations – alleviating what was expected to be at least a $250 million shortfall in funds.
The bill also specifies that $150 million of the total shall be used to pay reimbursement costs incurred by low-power TV station and translator stations displaced by the repack. Another $50 million is specified for FM stations which will incur costs due to collocated TV stations transitioning to their post-auction channels. This budget will ensure that the estimated 600+ affected FM stations will not have to be forced to operate at reduced power or be forced off the air due to the TV repack. Finally, the bill sets aside $50 million help educate consumers during the transition process.
Broadcasters as First Responders. Second, the bill broadens the definition of “first responders” during a disaster to include radio and television broadcasters. Recognizing the critical role that radio, television, cable, phone and satellite services play during times of crisis, the new definition will allow these entities to be provided priority access to funding and resources through FEMA (such as fuel for generators) that were previously restricted to traditional first responders.
In addition, inclusion as a designated first responders will permit broadcasters access to crisis areas, both for reporting on a disaster and for maintaining station operations. As demonstrated in 2017 with Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma, broadcasters are crucial to ensuring public safety and the dissemination of critical information before, during, and after disasters. Designation as first responders will make it easier to ensure stations can stay on the air or resume operations quickly, and provide the best possible news and information to their audiences.
If you have any questions about how these changes will directly impact you, please contact us.