FCC chairman Ajit Pai is telling Congress that unless it comes up with more money, broadcasters will have to pay some portion of their post-incentive auction repack expenses.
That came in prepared testimony for an FCC reauthorization hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee scheduled for Tuesday.
Pai says that the FCC has gotten $24 million more in estimates to add to the initial $2.139 billion, compared to the $1.75 billion Congress allocated out of FCC auction revenues for the repack reimbursement fund.
He also said that the FCC is still expecting to get a few more estimates from MVPDs, who are eligible for money to retune their head-ends to the moving TV station targets, and eight more TV stations that got waivers of the July 12 deadline because they can't construct on their current channel assignments.
He says the FCC estimates when all is tallied up that the total won't be more than $2.2 billion, which means the Congress would only need to come up with another $450 million.
"[T]he FCC cannot definitively report today how much the repack actually will cost," Pai said, which is because the estimates are just that and can be adjusted as the real world transition proceeds and because the FCC has yet to vet the expenses, which must meet a reasonableness standard.
"The final number could be lower than the current $2.139 billion," he said. "It could also be higher. But I can say right now that the agency expects the final number to be above the $1.75 billion that Congress has provided the Commission to reimburse impacted broadcast stations and MVPDs. As a result, unless Congress acts to raise the $1.75 billion cap, the substantial likelihood is that local broadcasters will be required to pay some portion of their repacking costs out of their own pockets. I would be happy to work with the Subcommittee to address this issue."
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the full committee, has already proposed legislation to offer up another $1 billion, with the extra going to help FM stations displaced by the move and help LPTVs and translators relocate post-auction since they don't get to dip into the fund.
Pai said he would be happy to work with the subcommittee to "address the issue."