FCC's O'Rielly Backs Broadcaster Push on Relocation Fund

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By Lydia Beyoud

Feb. 23 — Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Rielly voiced support Feb. 23 for one of the broadcast-television industry's most desired goals related to the upcoming spectrum incentive auctions: an extension of time for the impacted stations to have their signals relocated, and additional funds if necessary to compensate for the costs of a move.

Speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference, O'Rielly said he would tell Congress he supports broadcaster efforts to receive more funds in addition to an existing $1.75 billion relocation fund, if that was deemed absolutely necessary.

The NAB has also sought more time to conclude the relocation process beyond the established 39-month period following the complex auction of broadcasters' radio spectrum frequencies to mobile wireless carriers and other companies.

“In my opinion, these concerns are unlikely to be considered and addressed until the commission and Congress can examine the lay of the land post-auction,” O'Rielly said.

Any examination isn't likely to occur until after the November elections. If a Republican is elected president, the FCC could come under a GOP majority beginning in 2017. O'Rielly is expected to remain at the commission through his five-year term ending in 2018.

Also speaking at the conference, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was working to introduce legislation he has dubbed the Viewer Protection Act that would provide an additional $1 billion to ensure TV screens don't go dark during the transition period .

Pallone said the bill, currently in draft form, could be passed in the next Congress if it doesn't gain traction during the “silly season” of an election year.

“We are continuing to build bipartisan support for the draft bill and plan to introduce it in the near future,” a spokesperson for House Energy and Commerce Democrats told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail.

Small-ISP Exemption Markup

Separately, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to vote Feb. 25 on a draft bill to exempt small broadband Internet service providers from one of the FCC's net neutrality reporting rules.

The draft Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, by Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), was reported out of subcommittee Feb. 11 by voice vote after a contentious partisan debate . It's unclear whether the bill will gain any Democratic support, though Pallone's presence at the full committee markup could have a moderating effect on the partisan disagreements aired at the subcommittee markup, which Pallone did not attend, two lobbyists told Bloomberg BNA on background.

The measure would provide a permanent exemption from the Open Internet transparency rules for ISPs with 500,000 or fewer subscribers, or 1,500 or fewer employees.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The text of O'Rielly's prepared remarks is at http://src.bna.com/cPb.

Information on the draft small business bill markup is at https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/markups/energy-and-commerce-committee-vote-discussion-draft-small-business.