Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate on Wednesday would provide additional federal funding, as needed, to compensate television and radio broadcasters that must relocate their station operations in the wake of the recentlyconcluded incentive auction. Introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and co-sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (DHI), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Todd Young (R-IN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-CO), the Viewer and Listener Protection Act of 2017 (VLPA) responds to recent congressional testimony offered by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on the subject of post-incentive auction channel repacking. During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, and again at an FCC reauthorization hearing conducted by the House Communications Subcommittee on Tuesday, Pai confirmed that the FCC has received requests from broadcasters seeking more than $2.1 billion to reimburse costs associated with the relocation of affected broadcast station facilities--an amount which exceeds the $1.75 billion allocated by Congress for broadcast repacking expenses.

If adopted, the VLPA would permit the U.S. Treasury to release additional funds "as may be necessary" to cover any shortfall in the congressionally-mandated, $1.75 billion repacking fund through which reasonable relocation expenses of affected TV and FM radio stations would be compensated. (Because some FM broadcasters may be forced to vacate colocated transmission facilities as a result of TV station moves, affected FM licensees are also eligible for reimbursement.) Additional funds will be released "only if funds from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund are exhausted and the FCC appropriately certifies the need for the additional resources." The FCC would also be directed, when needed, to modify the 39-month transition period for specific broadcast stations "to ensure that no broadcast television station is forced to stop broadcasting for a significant period of time."

The VLPA resembles an identically-titled bill (HR 3347) introduced late last week by ranking House Energy and Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). Unlike the Senate version of the VLPA, the House bill would augment the existing $1.75 billion repacking fund with a $1 billion Viewer Protection Fund (VPA) which would cover affected multichannel video program distributors as well as TV and FM station licensees. Any money left over from the VPA would cover the relocation expenses of affected low power TV and TV translator stations that are not eligible for compensation under the FCC's rules.