The RAY BAUM Act has been unanimously approved by the House. The bill was named in honor of the late Energy & Commerce staff director, who died last month. It is expected to pass the Senate as well.
The comprehensive bill passed unanimously out of the Energy & Commerce Committee last month.
Among many other things, the bill (the "Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018), which reauthorizes the FCC (for the first time in 28 years), allocates more money for the post broadcast incentive auction repack and creates new funds for radio stations, low power TV stations and translators, none of whom were included in the initial repack fund, which was capped at $1.75 billion.
It establishes a new Broadcast Repack Fund that will cover full-power TV stations, as well as a Translator and Low-Power Station Relocation Fund; money for co-located radio stations affected by the TV station moves, the FM Broadcast Station Relocation Fund (currently only FM stations are covered); and the Broadcast Station Relocation Consumer Education Fund, $50 million for driving awareness of the repack and the associated channel changes.
The money will be made available if the $1.75 billion is not enough, which the FCC has already said will be the case, even before adding funds for radio, LPTVs and translators.
The bill also includes FCC reforms, the MOBILE Act promoting 5G next-gen wireless, expands access to rural broadband, expands veterans' access to broadband, promotes "dig once" policies for broadband buildouts when doing road work, promotes better data for wireless coverage areas, improves broadband access on tribal lands, eliminating a report on telegraph competition still on the books, a fix on an auction deposits issue that will now allow the FCC to hold future auctions, 911 call improvements, NTIA cybersecurity coordination, and much more.
From the many, and mostly glowing, floor speeches in advance of the vote, there was the definite sense that Baum's spirit of bipartisanship and consensus, plus his hard work on the issues addressed, helped power the compromise on the bill that resulted in passage. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) said it was the kind of compromise Congress needed in other areas.
The bill incorporates bills from both sides of the aisle as well as from the Senate as well as house (the MOBILE NOW Act notably).
The FCC's inspector general will be made independent of the chairman, something Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) noted did not apply currently with an IG investigation of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's handling of the Sinclair-Tribune merger proposal, an investigation he said Pai could end by firing the IG at any time.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee praised the FCC reforms, many bipartisan provisions. She also praised making the IG independent, as did Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), not surprising since he sponsored the bill.
“Reauthorizing the FCC is a home run for consumers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and providers," said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "Our elected officials on both sides of the aisle are sending a clear message that they are, indeed, committed to adopting common sense policies that break down barriers to connectivity and spur the deployment of next-generation networks. We hope the Senate maintains this forward momentum by swiftly passing the legislation.”
Appropriately, curren committee staffers were saluted from the floor for their work on the bill, including David Goldman and Robin Colwell, both former top FCC staffers.