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By Lydia Beyoud
Jan. 5 — Draft legislation in the House would establish a $1 billion taxpayer-funded emergency fund to ensure broadcasters don't go off the air after the upcoming incentive auctions of spectrum.
The discussion draft Viewer Protection Act of 2016 was issued Jan. 5 by the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.). It seeks to ensure TV screens don't go dark during the transition period resulting from the complex auction of broadcasters' spectrum to mobile wireless providers set to start March 29, according to a news release.
Pallone said the bill would ensure mobile carriers would be able to “reap the benefits of the incentive auction as soon as possible” while ensuring consumers have a source for news in case of emergency.
Pallone's draft would make the additional dollars available to the Federal Communications Commission if the cost of relocating broadcasters exceeds the $1.75 billion already set aside for that purpose, and if the FCC requests the funds as necessary to prevent stations from going off the air before their new frequencies are available.
Funds would only be available through fiscal year 2022. Any unused amounts would revert back to the Treasury Department.
The draft legislation would also give the FCC $90 million to develop a consumer awareness campaign about television channel changes resulting from the auction. It would require the agency to develop a plan within five months of the auction's close for relocating broadcasters on an expedited basis.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which has been lobbying for additional relocation funds, hailed the bill in a news release. “Millions of viewers reliant on broadcast television could be seriously harmed if this auction is not handled correctly,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.
“Ranking Member Pallone is proposing a smart, consumer-friendly approach that addresses urgent ‘repacking' issues that must be addressed to achieve a successful and truly voluntary incentive auction,” Wharton said.
An FCC spokesman said the agency was reviewing the draft and would look forward to working with Pallone to ensure a successful auction and a smooth post-auction transition.
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