Bill to Address Repack Shortcomings Advances

WASHINGTON—Relief for full- and low-power TV stations, TV translators, FM broadcasters and consumers from the consequences of the FCC’s spectrum repack took an important step forward Feb. 14 when the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a bill that plugs holes in the original legislation authorizing the incentive auction and relocation of about 1,000 U.S. full-power and Class A TV stations.

The bill targets problems that have troubled the broadcast industry since the repack was mandated, including an anticipated shortfall in the funds to reimburse full-power broadcasters and failure to acknowledge the consequences relocating full powers would have on low power and TV translator stations. The legislation establishes a reserve source for payment of full-power TV broadcaster relocation costs, establishes a Translator and Low Power Station Relocation Fund, sets up the FM Broadcast Station Relocation Fund and creates a the Broadcast Station Relocation Consumer Education Fund.

“…[T]he whole reason we are doing this is not only to provide the expanded authorities we’ve now come to learn after all of these years of the auction… that… were some areas that we missed, frankly, when we wrote the first bill,” said Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “This captures that, so that people won’t be punished for the repack that shouldn’t be, and that we get the funding.”

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Walden added he will go “arm-in-arm” with ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) to Congressional leaders and appropriators to “secure some level of commitment all the way up and down the appropriator food chain.”

The new funds were tucked into a bipartisan bill reauthorizing the Federal Communications Commission. Named the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018, or the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018, the bill incorporates proposals from both Republicans and Democrats.

One such proposal is Pallone’s Viewer Protection Act. “The American people depend on broadcasters to provide local news and information. My district saw firsthand how important that is when we were struck by Hurricane Sandy five years ago, and the Viewer Protection Act would assure no one loses that signal as a result of the FCC’s repacking efforts.”

The FCC reauthorization also establishes an independent inspector general for the agency. Currently, the FCC chairman appoints and supervises the agency’s inspector general. “Over 30 other federal department and agencies have an independent office of inspector general…,” said committee member Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who introduced a bill to create an independent inspector general for the FCC.

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“Good governance is a matter of transparency and accountability, and to do that the FCC needs to have an independent I.G.”

The RAY BAUM’s Act of 2018 was named for the late Ray Baum, staff director of the committee, who died Feb. 9.

For more information on the repack, visit TV Technology's repack silo.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.