A trio of U.S. Senators has drafted potential legislation that would further ensure no American loses any access to TV signals following the repack resulting from the end of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction.
How would this be done? By giving broadcast TV stations additional reimbursement dollars from a new U.S. Treasury fund proposed by the legislators, and by establishing a transition plan that works in the best interests of TV broadcasters.
Dubbed “The Viewer Protection Act of 2016,” the bill introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tom Udall (D-N. Mex.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) in the lame-duck Congress seeks to bring added financial relief to TV station owners for costs associated with channel relocation resulting from the reorganization of broadcast television spectrum, and “for other purposes.”
These funds would be available to broadcast TV owners via a “Viewer Protection Fund,” should those funds allocated through the already-established TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund be exhausted.
Amounts made available to the Commission to disperse to broadcast TV station owners would be available through FY 2022. Unused funds will be returned to the General Fund of the Treasury.
The legislation would also tackle the important task of conducting the repack process in a manner of least impact to broadcast stations.
“Not later than 150 days after the conclusion of competitive bidding in the forward auction, the Commission shall publish an analysis of how the Commission will complete an expedited reorganization,” the bill reads. “The Commission shall adopt a broadcast channel relocation plan with relocation deadlines designed to ensure that wireless licensees obtain access to their licenses expeditiously while broadcast channel relocation efforts are completed as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
Furthermore, a “phased-in basis” of implementation would be seen, as separate regions of the country are reorganized for wireless use, the bill states. This would allow for a modification, if needed, of the current repack timetable and safeguard that “no station is forced to stop broadcasting due to reasons outside the control of the station.”
Not to let stations completely off the hook, the bill would impose “appropriate penalties on a station that fails to meet the deadlines adopted in the plan … other than for reasons outside the control of the station.”
At present, some $1.75 billion is available through the currently established relocation reimbursement fund. The new legislation is open-ended with respect to the total additional funds available for reimbursement purposes.
The new legislation is similar in nature to that proposed earlier this year by House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).
Pallone commented, “Millions of Americans depend on broadcast television for news and information, especially during emergencies, which is why I drafted the Viewer Protection Act to provide the resources necessary to make sure no one loses their signal. From the beginning I have said that this should be a bipartisan effort. That’s why I’m grateful to see a broad coalition of senators agree and have circulated a companion to my bill. I look forward to working with all of them to pass this important legislation in the next Congress.”
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith was pleased with the senators’ bill.
“NAB greatly appreciates the leadership of Sens. Moran and Schatz and their colleagues in working to ensure that millions of viewers reliant on over-the-air TV are not disenfranchised by the broadcast spectrum incentive auction,” he said. “The discussion draft [Friday] lays the groundwork to address important ‘repacking’ issues in next year’s Congress. We look forward to working in bipartisan fashion with the senators and their colleagues in both chambers to achieve a successful auction for broadcasters, wireless carriers and, most importantly, viewers.”