The House Energy & Commerce Committee approved legislation this week to reauthorize the FCC for the first time in more than 25 years. The final bill was a bipartisan consensus package of agency process and reporting reforms, as well as public safety, veterans, and other telecommunications matters.
Notable among the additions to the FCC Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4986) were a number of provisions to aid broadcasters in the post-auction spectrum repacking process. Last summer, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Congressional panels that the agency expects repacking costs to exceed the current broadcaster relocation fund’s statutory set-aside of $1.75 billion, so additional action would be needed if broadcasters were to be fully covered. This week, the committee aimed to address that need with new authorizations not only for currently covered TV stations, but also for LPTV, translator, and FM radio stations that may be affected. A spectrum repacking consumer education fund was also given the green light.
Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) stated that this new bill was an effort to fix some issues missed by the law that originally authorized the spectrum auction. He wanted to be sure that “people won’t be punished for the repack that shouldn’t be.” Walden also committed to work to ensure sufficient actual dollars for the new funds. “I have secured some level of commitment all the way up and down the appropriator food chain,” he said.
On a related note, the FCC last Friday announced its “Special Displacement Window” for LPTV and TV translators affected by the auction to file for replacement channels. That window is slated to run from April 10 to May 15. The legislation that the House Energy & Commerce Committee approved this week delineated that only LPTV and translator stations that file in that window will be eligible for its federal repacking aid.
NRB has long highlighted the value of Christian television programming for local communities and has emphasized care for religious broadcast stations in spectrum re-allocation deliberations. Indeed, the NRB Board of Directors, a body of approximately a hundred key leaders among Christian communicators, unanimously approved a resolution in 2015 calling for carefulness “not to auction any religious broadcaster off the air.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: February 16, 2018