Senators Propose TV Station Relocation Fund

Broadcasters could also not be forced off for situations beyond their control

The National Association of Broadcasters is praising a bipartisan effort by a handful of senators to make sure there is enough money to cover the costs of TV station moves after the spectrum auction and that stations can't be forced to meet a moving deadline for reasons beyond their control.

But it would also impose a "penalty" on stations that did not meet the deadlines of a phased transition absent those extenuating circumstances. 

There is currently a $1.75 billion relocation fund, which is looking larger every time the FCC reduces the amount of spectrum it is reclaiming from broadcasters in the auction and thus increases the space in which to repack stations—the FCC is now in its third reduction.

But in case that does not prove sufficient, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have drafted a bill, the Viewer Protection Act of 2016, that would create a Viewer Protection Fund.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) proposed a similar discussion draft last January, putting a figure of $1 billion on the fund.

The senators did not have a figure in mind, at least not in the draft NAB supplied, but simply such sums as "are necessary to provide reimbursements for relocation costs to 1 or more broadcast television licensees" if the initial funds are exhausted.

It does not mention money for cable operators, though the initial fund does include cable expenses, say for retuning headends to pick up stations that have moved.

The bill also calls for the FCC to publish an analysis within 150 days of completion of the spectrum auction of how it will complete an expedited post-auction TV station repack. It also tells the FCC that the plan must be "designed to ensure that wireless licensees obtain access to their licenses expeditiously while broadcast channel relocation efforts are completed as efficiently and effectively as possible."

That has been the stated goal of the FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler, but the report will be produced by the leadership of a Donald Trump FCC.

"NAB greatly appreciates the leadership of Sens. Moran and Schatz and their colleagues in working to ensure that millions of viewers reliant on over-the-air TV are not disenfranchised by the broadcast spectrum incentive auction," said NAB president Gordon Smith. "The discussion draft today lays the groundwork to address important 'repacking' issues in next year's Congress. We look forward to working in bipartisan fashion with the Senators and their colleagues in both chambers to achieve a successful auction for broadcasters, wireless carriers and, most importantly, viewers."