The wheels of the Federal government are moving the re-authorization of the Federal Communications Commission closer to approval.
Top Democratic and Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have reached “a bipartisan, bicameral agreement” that also spurs the deployment of next-generation wireless services. The next step for H.R. 4986, “RAY BAUM’s Act,” is a vote Tuesday (3/6) in the House of Representatives.
News of the agreement came Friday morning from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), who worked with Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S. Dakota), and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in finalizing the bill.
In a joint statement led by Thune, the legislators said the legislation, combining provisions that have previously passed both the House and Senate, “does what no legislation has done in 28 years.”
That would be the re-authorization of the FCC.
The Act also includes provisions that the legislators says does much to ensure that the FCC remains “transparent, efficient, and ready for the 21st century communications landscape.”
The four noted in a statement, “This bipartisan, bicameral product puts consumers first and solidifies the nation’s critical telecommunications infrastructure, giving the U.S. a global edge in the race to 5G and improving internet services across the country.”
No discussion was made on the national ownership reach cap, which is at 39% and the heart of controversy that still shrouds Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s acquisition of Tribune Media — despite divestments the company has announced that fall in line with FCC regulations on ownership.
However, the Act includes spectrum legislation passed by the Senate in a 2017 unanimous vote, and — importantly — authorizes further reimbursement funds for broadcasters (including radio and LPTV stations) who were displaced in the post-Spectrum Auction “repack” process.
The Energy and Commerce Committee approved an earlier version of H.R. 4986 by voice vote last month.
The Senate Commerce Committee passed its own bipartisan FCC reauthorization bill in the last Congress.
The bill is named for former Energy and Commerce Committee Staff Director Ray Baum, who since May 2016 served in a key lobbying role for the NAB. Baum was a close friend of Walden and of former Oregon Sen. and NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith.
The legislation to be considered next week would accomplish the following:
- Reauthorize the FCC and include reforms to ensure the commission continues to improve its efficiency and transparency.
- Enact key provisions from the Senate-approved MOBILE NOW Act (S. 19) to boost the development of next-generation 5G wireless broadband by identifying more spectrum — both licensed and unlicensed — for private sector use and reducing the red tape associated with building wireless networks.
- Authorize a repack fund to address the shortfall in funding available to relocate broadcasters being displaced following the successful Incentive Auction, and set up new relocation funds for translators, low-power television, and radio stations that will be impacted by the repack – supplemented by a consumer education fund.
- Include a spectrum auction deposit “fix” which allows the FCC to deposit upfront payments from spectrum bidders directly with the U.S. Treasury.
- Direct the FCC to craft a national policy for unlicensed spectrum that includes certain specific considerations and recommendations.
- Advance proposals that would help the FCC and law enforcement protect consumers from fraudulent telephone calls, and to educate Americans about their options to stop these illegal calls.