LAS VEGAS — Emerging digital technologies were a driving force behind the FCC’s first-ever broadcast incentive auction.
One aspect of that auction FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stressed for many years — well before holding this job, he told NAB Show attendees in a Tuesday address — is that “we need to ensure a smooth transition for broadcasters.”
With the nation’s TV broadcasters just days away from the scheduled deadline for Phase II of a 10-phase process, Pai provided a positive update on how the post-auction transition has gone so far.
The post-incentive auction repack began in 2017 and will run until July 2020.
Pai is pleased to report that the post-auction transition “has gone well so far, and we find ourselves ahead of schedule.”
He added that “well over” 300 stations have transitioned off their pre-auction channels, including 130 reverse auction winning bidders that are now channel-sharing and about 200 of the 987 repacked stations.
By Friday (4/12), the end of Phase 2, that number will likely increase to over 350 transitioned stations, Pai said.
Not only is the FCC ahead of schedule, it more resources to help stations do the job, Pai said.
“Thanks to the additional $1 billion provided by Congress last year, we now have a total of $2.75 billion available,” he said, adding with typical Pai-style humor, “Now, there’s a lot one could do with that amount: you could buy 458 million foot-long Subway sandwiches, or 7.2 million season tickets to Kansas City Chiefs home games. But we’re aiming for the higher purposes of reimbursing broadcasters for repack costs and conducting consumer education.”
And, the Commission is getting results, Pai said, with about 17,000 invoices approved and nearly $450 million in reimbursements.
Additionally, just a few weeks ago, the FCC established rules and procedures to enable low power TV, TV translator, and FM radio stations to be reimbursed for their repack-related costs.
In addition to making sure broadcasters are treated fairly during the post-incentive auction transition, Pai says the FCC hasn’t forgotten about consumers. “We’ve set up a comprehensive consumer education strategy, including a dedicated call center to help consumers who need to rescan their TVs so that they can still receive local stations that change channels,” he said. “The plan also includes public outreach efforts, with a focus on hard-to-reach communities like seniors, low-income households, and non-English speakers.”
Concluding his discussion on the topic, Pai said the FCC needs to recognize “the challenges that the transition presents.”
He said, “You have my word that the FCC will keep working hand-in-hand with broadcasters and their vendors to ensure a smooth, on-schedule transition, with the least impact to the public.”
— Additional reporting by Ed Ryan, from Las Vegas