The Act named for a key figure on the sidelines of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee and key NAB lobbyist until his February death is one step closer to becoming law — and giving broadcast media necessary post-FCC spectrum auction repack reimbursement funds.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday (3/22) voted 256-167 on an omnibus package to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2018.
It’s a 2,232-page document, and it includes language of vital importance to radio and TV broadcasters.
First, the omnibus bill includes the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act, or RAY BAUM’S Act. It is named for the former committee Staff Director and long-time friend of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). Baum died of cancer.
RAY BAUM’S Act is the result of a bipartisan, bicameral agreement among House and Senate leaders, and passed the U.S. House by voice vote on March 6. It’s been rolled in to the omnibus bill so funding can start flowing.
Specifically, the Act reauthorizes the FCC for the first time since 1990—and includes reforms to ensure the commission continues to improve its efficiency and transparency while also making improvements to services for rural residents, veterans, Native Americans, and public safety.
It also includes the critical spectrum auction deposit “fix” that allows the FCC to place upfront payments from spectrum bidders directly with the U.S. Treasury, enabling future auctions to take place.
Of no lesser importance is spectrum repack allocation legislation that authorizes a repack fund to address the shortfall in funding available to relocate broadcasters being displaced following the FCC Incentive Auction. It also establishes new relocation funds for translators, low-power television, and radio stations that will be impacted by the repack—supplemented by a consumer education fund.
The new relocation funds will be allocated over two years, and includes $600 million for the first year and $400 million for the second.
“At the Energy and Commerce Committee, we pride ourselves on our ability to work across the aisle and explore every avenue to get our bills signed into law,” said Walden. “This omnibus package is no different.”
Yet, Walden was not pleased with some non-GOP members of Congress.
“I am disappointed the Democrats would not agree to include common-sense provisions to help stabilize the individual health care insurance market and lower premiums for Americans all across the country,” he lamented.
The omnibus bill also provides $4 billion to help address prevention, treatment, and enforcement issues tied to the nation’s opiod epidemic; more than $2.3 billion in new funding billion for mental health programs and other training; $37 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a $3 billion increase over FY17 to fund additional research and development of cures for major diseases; and $7.5 million to NTIA to coordinate broadband mapping across the Federal government and reconstitutes mapping coordination at NTIA.