Congress approved a $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill this week to keep the government funded through the end of FY18. Among its provisions are new funds for broadcasters affected by the recent spectrum auction and the subsequent repack.
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. Leaders of both parties from the House Energy & Commerce Committee, the Senate Commerce Committee, and both chambers’ appropriations committees worked to ensure new funds not only for currently covered TV stations, but also for LPTV, translator, and FM radio stations that may be affected.
This week’s legislation, which also reauthorized the FCC for the first time since 1990, included $600 million for this fiscal year and another $400 million for FY19, which begins in October. Of this year's amount, $350 million is set aside for reimbursement of full power and Class A TV spectrum moving costs not able to be covered by the existing relocation fund. $150 million of the total is allocated for displaced LPTV & TV translators, and $50 million for affected FM radio stations. $50 million was also included for consumer education about the repack.
Among several requirements delineated for LPTV stations, who previously had been left out of auction protections, the omnibus legislation states that only LPTV and translator stations that file in the FCC’s upcoming “Special Displacement Window” (April 10 to May 15) will be eligible for this federal repacking aid.
During last month’s House Energy & Commerce Committee mark-up of the legislation that would provide the basis for these omnibus provisions, Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) stated that this 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.”
NRB has long been vocal about 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.”
The overall omnibus appropriations bill now awaits President Trump's decision to sign or veto it.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: March 23, 2018