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House Bill Would Give Radio Stations Some Repack Relief

Would allow federal money to be used to reimburse FMs for "reasonable relocation costs"

Those 600+ radio stations recently identified in an NAB study as being in danger of operational disruption from the TV spectrum “repack” might get some relief from any financial hit they face.

A bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) this month asking for another $1 billion to help TV stations make their moves includes a pledge to help radio stations that experience service interruptions. A previous authorization of $1.75 billion was included in the TV spectrum auction but did not include radio broadcasters.

The Viewer Protection Act of 2017 designates the Federal Communications Commission to reimburse FM radio stations “for reasonable relocation costs that are incurred because of the displacement of co-located equipment from a tower or similar transmission facility due to the re-organization of television broadcast spectrum.”

Pallone’s proposal, which also includes $90 million for a public awareness campaign to inform viewers of interruptions to service, doesn’t specify how much money from the fund would be available to radio broadcasters but acknowledges a substantial number of consumers “will lose access to FM radio stations unless such stations are reimbursed for reasonable relocation costs due to displacement of co-located equipment.”

Those additional funds provided in the House bill would be available until the end of fiscal year 2020, according to the measure proposal.

[Read the legislation.]

A committee hearing on the new bill is expected soon, according to a Pallone spokesperson. “Rep. Pallone believes this issue needs to be resolved quickly to make sure no viewers or listeners are harmed from the repack. However, with only three legislative days left before recess and a full floor schedule this week, we can’t expect a floor vote before August,” the official said.

Additionally, several United States Senators — notably Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii.) — have been discussing introducing a companion version in that chamber, according to the spokesperson.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which commissioned the previously reported radio impact study from V-Soft Corp., has been pushing Congress to include displacement money for radio broadcasters affected by the TV repack.

“As FCC Chairman Pai made clear…the commission’s current $1.75 billion fund is simply insufficient to fairly reimburse those broadcasters forced to relocate channels in order to accommodate the incentive auction,” said Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO. “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.”

V-Soft estimates a total of 678 radio stations could transmission facilities impacted by the TV repack. States with radio broadcasters facing the highest number of potential co-location conflicts are Florida (137) and New York (117), according to the V-Soft study.

Among those who have been pushing in Washington for money for radio has been Paul Rotella, president of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association. “I want to thank Congressman Pallone for his intuitive appreciation for the consequences of the re-pack on FM broadcasters. We very much appreciate this essential initiative,” he wrote in a letter to Pallone’s office. “The NJBA first raised this issue about 18 months ago when the initial bill was under consideration. Now, it seems radio broadcasters and the vast and diverse audiences they serve will be able to be protected under Congressman Pallone’s Viewer Protection Act and we urge Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible.”