Pallone Proposes $1B Boost to Repack Fund

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who has long pushed Congress to hold viewers harmless in the post incentive auction repack, has introduced a bill to make sure the moving expenses of TV stations (and affected FM stations and MVPDs) are covered, given the initial broadcaster estimates of $2.1 billion in expenses and Congress' set-aside of only $1.75 billion.

The Viewer Protection Act would establish a $1 billion "emergency fund," if needed, to fund a $90 million viewer outreach effort, given that most of 1,000 stations are moving channels -- some likely twice -- in a 10-phase transition.

Any money left over could be used to help low-powers (including translators), which are not protected in the repack.

At his nomination hearing this week, FCC chair Ajit Pai said the FCC had estimated the $1.75 billion would not be enough, so that if Congress wants to hold TV stations harmless -- Pallone is more focused on viewers -- Congress would need to step in.

The bill would also give the FCC's Media Bureau the flexibility to modify the transition periods for the phased transition so stations would not go dark to viewers for reasons outside their control.

“The FCC’s incentive auction was the second largest auction in history, and the result of years of successful work,” Pallone said in a statement. “But with an anticipated shortfall of more than a quarter billion dollars for repacking, it’s time for Congress to step in to make sure that no viewers lose their signal. I understand how important it is to have access to local news and information — especially during an emergency. That’s why the Viewer Protection Act provides additional funding and ensures consumers will understand the coming changes, so that no consumer will be left in the dark when stations change channels. At the same time, our bill will ensure consumers of mobile broadband reap the benefits of the incentive auction as soon as possible.”

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.