Broadcast industry executives are applauding a draft House bill, unveiled on Tuesday that would protect broadcasters and television viewers in the post-incentive auction period by authorizing an additional $1 billion in emergency funding for the repacking and relocation of broadcast channel operations. Sponsored by ranking House Energy and Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the bill, known as the Viewer Protection Act of 2016, is currently a discussion draft that has yet to be formally introduced. Although spectrum-related provisions of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act have allocated $1.75 billion of the incentive auction’s proceeds for the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund, broadcasters have voiced concern that the $1.75 billion outlay will not be enough to defray broadcast repacking and relocation costs at the conclusion of the incentive auction. Warning that only a fraction of TV stations nationwide will be able to meet the FCC’s mandated 39-month deadline for repacking broadcast channel operations, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) asked the FCC recently to hold off on prescribing the repacking deadline until the incentive auction process is complete.
If adopted, the draft bill would alleviate these concerns by (1) authorizing an additional $1 billion in emergency repacking and relocation funding to be released by the FCC in the event TV viewers are jeopardized by the loss of broadcast signals, and (2) directing the FCC to establish a plan within five months of the incentive auction closing date that “will map out how remaining TV stations will be repacked . . . so broadband consumers can reap the benefits of the auction as soon as possible.” The FCC would also be “given limited flexibility to modify the repacking schedule if necessary to protect broadcast viewers.” The measure would also allocate $90 million for viewer education initiatives that would be modeled on similar programs designed for the digital TV transition.
Stressing that, “as we approach the broadcast incentive auction, it is critical that we make this transition as seamless as possible,” Pallone proclaimed that passage of the draft bill “will help to ensure that viewers’ TVs do not go dark.” As he praised Pallone for “proposing a smart, consumer-friendly approach that addresses urgent repacking issues that must be addressed to achieve a successful and truly voluntary incentive auction,” NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton declared that his organization “looks forward to working in bipartisan fashion to protect broadcast viewers in communities across the country.”