The FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice today seeking comment on a draft TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund Reimbursement Form (“Reimbursement Form”), which broadcasters and MVPDs will use to submit information necessary to get reimbursed for their expenses incurred during the post-auction repacking process. Comments on the Reimbursement Form are due October 27, 2014.
Congress allocated $1.75 billion to the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund (the “Fund”) to reimburse eligible television stations (i.e., full power and Class A stations) that incur expenses associated with moving to post-auction channel reassignments and MVPDs that incur expenses associated with continuing to carry the signal of relocated broadcasters. Congress also directed the FCC to make all reimbursements within three years after completion of the incentive auction. As set forth in the Commission’s initial Report and Order providing the framework for the auction process, broadcasters and MVPDs must file the Reimbursement Form no later than three months following the FCC’s release of a post-auction public notice (the “Channel Reassignment Public Notice”) which will identify the new channel assignments for full power and Class A television stations that have been reassigned to different channels.
Although the release of the Channel Reassignment Public Notice is still many months away, today’s Public Notice notes that in order to ensure the “fairness, efficiency and transparency” of the reimbursement process, the Commission is anxious to give all stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the process well in advance of the commencement of the incentive auction. In this regard, the agency hopes to use this advance input to refine the Reimbursement Form before submitting it to the Office of Management and Budget, after which the public will have an additional opportunity to comment on the form.
The draft Reimbursement Form requires that broadcasters and MVPDs provide an overall estimate of the costs to be incurred in completing their transition, and whether they plan to modify current equipment or purchase new equipment. Under the FCC’s reimbursement plan, eligible entities will receive an initial allocation of up to 80% (or up to 90% for non-commercial broadcasters) of the estimate they submit on the Reimbursement Form. The Reimbursement Form incorporates the Catalog of Eligible Expenses, which the agency believes will make it easier for those completing the form to identify and report the specific types of equipment they are purchasing, and will facilitate the calculation of cost estimates by providing a baseline cost for commonly purchased equipment and services. The Commission has yet to finalize the Catalog, but the Public Notice states that a final version will be released prior to the auction.
The draft Reimbursement Form, which will be filed electronically, includes a number of data fields illustrating the information to be collected. Among other things, the Reimbursement Form asks eligible entities to identify the U.S. Treasury account they must set up in advance in order to receive payments from the Fund. By requiring parties to submit this information via the Reimbursement Form, the Commission hopes to prompt entities to start the process of establishing their required accounts well before they are to receive their initial allocations of funds.
The Public Notice contemplates a process whereby once an initial amount is allocated for each entity, and parties begin purchasing equipment and services, they will submit updated Reimbursement Forms along with cost documentation (such an invoice or receipt) demonstrating their actual costs each time they seek reimbursement for an expense against their allocation. The updated Reimbursement Forms and supporting cost documentation will all be filed electronically, thereby allowing entities to use the Fund to quickly pay their expenses as they are incurred. Finally, as contemplated by the FCC, all entities that receive an allocation must submit a final Reimbursement Form showing their total expenses upon completing construction or by a specific deadline prior to the end of the three-year reimbursement period to be announced by the Media Bureau, whichever is earlier.
Although the Media Bureau intends to make public the amounts distributed from the Fund to each broadcaster and MVPD, the Public Notice seeks comment on whether any of the other data submitted on the Reimbursement Form should be considered confidential or not subject to public disclosure.
If you have any questions about the draft Reimbursement Form or the Commission’s reimbursement process, please feel free to contact us.