House E&C Okays Repack Buck Boost

The House Energy & Commerce Committee has unanimously agreed to allocate more money for TV stations for the post-incentive auction repack, as well as provide money to radio stations affected by the repack, and provide money for low-power TV stations and translators displaced by the repack.

That came in a markup vote Feb. 14 to favorably report an FCC reauthorization bill (HR 4986), renamed after the late committee staff director Ray Baum, to the full House. The bill included a number of other bills, including the incentive auction fund increase.

The money will be freed up if and when the FCC certifies to the Treasury that the current $1.75 billion repack relocation fund will be insufficient, which the FCC has already signaled is already the case, and certifies to the Congress that the money is necessary to reimburse "reasonably incurred costs."

Related: FCC Reauthorization Bill Bulks Up

The bill establishes a new Broadcast Repack Fund that will cover full power TV stations, as well as a Translator and Low Power Station Relocation Fund for, well, low powers and translators, as well as money for co-located radio stations affected by the TV station moves, though currently only FMs are covered (it is called the FM Broadcast Station Relocation Fund), as well as money for a consumer education campaign about the repack and the associated channel changes (the Broadcast Station Relocation Consumer Education Fund).

LPTVS, translators and radio stations were not included in the $1.75 billion fund, which Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Wednesday (Feb. 15) was a mistake that the committee was now correcting.

The LPTV portion says that "the Commission shall reimburse costs reasonably incurred by a television translator station or low  power television station on or after January 1, 2017, in order for such station to relocate its television service from one channel to another channel or otherwise modify its facility..." But there won't be any payments for lost revenues.

The bills unanimous approval by the committee is not the end of the story, however. The appropriation must still be made. Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) promised that he would go to the leadership and appropriators "up and down the food chain," to secure commitments for the added funds for the repack.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) motormanned the added broadcaster funds as a way to make sure viewers would be held harmless as much as possible by the station moves.

“USTelecom is glad to see the House Energy & Commerce Committee move bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the FCC for the first time since 1990," said said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "The inclusion of process reforms and efficiency measures reflect a forward looking, 21st century approach to the oversight of our rapidly evolving communications industry.”

“America’s Public Television Stations are delighted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee has recommended additional funds today to ensure that broadcasters repacking their channels will have the resources they need to complete this work in a timely way, educate consumers about the transition, and minimize disruption for their viewers," said American Public Television Stations President Patrick Butler.

“We pay special tribute to the leadership of Chairman Greg Walden for fashioning a bill with broad bipartisan support, in the finest tradition of Congress. And we are delighted that the Chairman and his colleagues have seen fit to honor the memory of their staff director, the beloved Ray Baum, by designating this important legislation the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018."

“I vowed years ago that if the repack funds were insufficient, I would lead the charge for additional monies, as broadcasters were promised that the incentive auction would be truly voluntary," said FCc Commissioner Michael O'Rielly. "Today, we reach the next stage in the process, and I heartily endorse the Energy and Commerce Committee’s action to add funding for full power television and radio broadcasters in the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018.

"It is also great to see the Spectrum Auction Deposits Act of 2017 included in today’s package, which provides the technical fix necessary to get our spectrum auctions back on track. As someone who was an early advocate of establishing an auction timeline, this needs to become law so we can get auctions on the books and held this year, if not Q1 of 2019. "

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.