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FCC: No Consumer Should Be Harmed in TV Repack

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, thanked the FCC commissioners for overseeing a first of its kind, "successful" broadcast incentive auction, but had some worries about what comes next.

Schatz said Wednesday that while everyone wants faster internet and better coverage, he had concerns that "consumers could lose access to their local broadcast station if channels are forced off the air in the repacking process if the stations cannot repack in the 39-month time frame."

He sought a commitment from all the commissioners to support legislative efforts to "make sure that that does not happen."

Related: FCC's Pai Stands By First Amendment Defense

Clyburn, leading off, framed her answer in terms of consumers, rather than stations: "I would support any effort that would complement our goal of ensuring that no consumer is negatively harmed." FCC Chairman Ajit Pai apparently liked that phrasing, and associated himself with the remark, saying: "I agree with Commissioner Clyburn.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly had a caveat. "Depending on how it read, I would agree."

Asked later in the hearing by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) whether he had concerns that the FCC had not adequately assessed the size and scope of the repack when the it first came up with the transition plan, the chairman conceded he did have some concerns "about the agency's course, but that a number of decisions had already been made. "So at this point, our goal is to work to ensure a smooth and successful transition."

Asked how soon the FCC would know whether 39 months was enough time, or the $1.75 billion repack fund would be enough, Pai said that would be in three months after the close of the auction, when broadcasters will file their estimates on the cost of the repack. “At that point, our task force, which has done a tremendous job, will be able to take stock and figure out how much money they estimate it is going to be."

As to the 39 months, he said it would depend on when the auction closes — which is March 30 — and on some outstanding petitions to reconsider.