The congressman says the Viewer Protection Act is designed to protect broadcast television viewers and mobile broadband users.
Today, Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) introduced the Viewer Protection Act, which would establish a Viewer Protection Fund to “fully protect broadcast viewers and expeditiously get new mobile broadband spectrum into the hands of consumers.”
Pallone said the bill would do that by ensuring enough funds exist to cover costs related to the FCC’s Incentive Auction repack. Introduction of the bill comes after the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force announced last week that broadcasters have requested $2.1 billion — significantly more than the $1.75 billion set aside — to cover costs related to the auction.
“The FCC’s incentive auction was the second largest auction in history, and the result of years of successful work,” said Pallone. “But with an anticipated shortfall of more than a quarter billion dollars for repacking, it’s time for Congress to step in to make sure that no viewers lose their signal. I understand how important it is to have access to local news and information — especially during an emergency.
“That’s why the Viewer Protection Act provides additional funding and ensures consumers will understand the coming changes, so that no consumer will be left in the dark when stations change channels. At the same time, our bill will ensure consumers of mobile broadband reap the benefits of the incentive auction as soon as possible.”
According to Pallone, the Viewer Protection Act would:
- Create a $1 Billion Emergency Fund to Keep Viewers’ TVs from Going Dark: The money will be authorized — if the FCC certifies to the Treasury Department that it is needed — to the reimbursement fund for TV station relocation costs.
- Fund a $90 Million Viewer Education Effort: Authorized for the FCC to conduct an outreach campaign to consumers to inform and educate them about changes resulting from the broadcast TV incentive auction channel reassignments.
- Use Viewer Protection Fund Money to Help Stations: Allows the FCC to use Viewer Protection Fund money to reimburse both FM stations and multichannel video distributors for reasonable costs incurred related to the reorganization of TV broadcast stations.
- Assist Low-Power TV Stations: Allows the FCC to use any leftover money from the Viewer Protection Fund to assist low-power TV stations that are displaced due to the full-power TV station reorganization.
- Give Leeway in Transition Periods: Requires the FCC to delegate authority to the Media Bureau to both modify the transition periods for the relocation of TV stations in order to ensure that stations are not forced to stop broadcasting due to reasons outside of their control, and impose appropriate penalties for any station that fails to complete its relocation within the transition period.
In response to the introduction of the Viewer Protection Act, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith issued this comment: “As FCC Chairman Pai made clear during yesterday’s hearing, the commission’s $1.75 billion fund is simply insufficient to fairly reimburse those broadcasters forced to relocate channels in order to accommodate the incentive auction. Ranking Member Pallone’s legislation addresses this shortfall, and further ensures that millions of TV viewers and radio listeners retain access to local news, weather, sports and emergency weather warnings during and after the ‘repack’.
“NAB thanks Ranking Member Pallone for his leadership and looks forward to working with him and his colleagues in both parties to ensure a just and reasonable repack process,” Smith added.
American Cable Association President-CEO Matthew M. Polka commented: “ACA is pleased that this bill introduced by Rep. Pallone makes more money available to the Federal Communications Commission, if needed, to prevent consumers from losing access to broadcast channels as a result of the incentive auction. ACA is particularly appreciative that the additional funds would be accessible to cable operators too so these providers have the financial support they need to continue offering the broadcast channels to their customers without interruption.”
Cosponsors of the bill are Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Full text of the bill can be found here.