Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, told broadcasters he was confident Congress would pass a bill backstopping them in the post-incentive auction repack.
Speaking to a National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership audience, Pallone talked about his bill, the Viewer Protection Act.
Broadcasters have been pressing the FCC to soften its hard 39-month deadline for transitioning to new channels after the auction and are concerned the $1.75 billion transition fund may not cover all the necessary expenses.
Pallone said he was sure the FCC didn't want viewers to lose their TV signals as a result of the repack and said his bill would make sure they had the tools needed to make sure that didn't happen.
Pallone has billed his bill, introduced last month, as being mostly focused on those consumers, but broadcasters would clearly benefit as well.
Pallone said that given that in his state, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, "we never know when another emergency will strike," the viewers should not lose their TV signals for even a day.
The bill "sets up a viewer education program to make sure everyone knows how to find their favorite channels after the repack; creates a one billion dollar viewer protection fund to make sure the FCC has enough money to keep TVs from losing signal;" and "sets up an expedited process that allows the FCC to easily modify its current schedule for the repacking, in case not everything goes according to plan."
Pallone praised broadcasters for their life-saving role during the storm.
"There was unanimous agreement that local broadcasting was extremely helpful during and after [Sandy], and provided critical news and information," he told his audience. "I know that when the worst happens, this is often the case. Our first responders gave credit to local television and radio broadcasters for their heroic work. Our local broadcasters went to enormous lengths to keep everyone informed. Critically, broadcasters got the information out early, so everyone knew how to stay out of harm’s way. Their work—your work—saves countless lives."
He also talked about his SANDy [Securing Access to Networks in Disasters] Act, introduced back in November, which would include broadcasters in the "essential services" that get priority access to fuel and backup generators during emergencies.
Pallone said both bills have "broad support," adding: "I’m optimistic that we will find a way to get them both signed into law."
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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.