Congress Could Split Payments to Broadcasters Over Two Years

Thune, Walden explore compensating spectrum moves over longer period of time

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., says members are exploring spreading out payments to broadcasters for spectrum moves from one year to two. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune says authorizers and appropriators are exploring whether to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum over two years rather than one, a change that could make it a more palatable item in spending bills.

The South Dakota Republican, who is also chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., are trying to secure about $1 billion to compensate broadcasters for giving up one part of the spectrum and move to another. But appropriators are balking at the sum.

“I don’t think there’s agreement on that, not in year one anyway,” Thune, said, referring to the authorizers’ request for $1 billion for broadcaster compensation. “Maybe do it over a two-year period.”

Congress is working on passing a fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill by March 23, the day the current continuing resolution expires. The spending bill would provide funding in tandem with a two-year reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission. The House has passed the reauthorization already.

“We are looking forward to finding a positive resolution,” said House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee Chairman Tom Graves, R-Ga. “We’re trying to make sure they have what they need to get the job done. I think we’ll be able to do that. I’m not saying to what amount. But I’m saying we’ll be able to do what’s necessary for them to get their job done.”

Elena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Energy and Commerce panel, said Walden had put a priority on moving the FCC reauthorization with broadcaster funding as a stand-alone measure or possibly as part of the omnibus.

“We’re continuing to work with appropriators to ensure Congress upholds its commitment to broadcasters,” Hernandez said in an email statement on Friday.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of Energy and Commerce and chairman of the House Republican Conference, said she backed calls for expedited aid to broadcasters, particularly in rural areas, for switching spectrum slots.

“I certainly believe that we need to get the repack done sooner rather than later because that is what’s going to help our rural areas,” she said, referring to the repacking of spectrum.

The FCC reauthorization would establish two funds — without specifying the amount of money — that would provide compensation, one for broadcasters moving television stations to new channels and another for FM radio operators moving equipment to make way for wireless providers.

Separately, the bill would authorize $333 million for the FCC in fiscal 2019 and $339 million in fiscal 2020.

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