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Congress moving toward granting broadcasters “first informer” status

The U.S. Senate floor is the next stop for a federal proposal that ensures broadcasters can cross law enforcement roadblocks during emergencies to reach studio and transmitter facilities.

The Senate Commerce Committee last week approved S.102, Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act, otherwise known as the SANDy Act. 

The bill is sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee chairman, Sen. John Thune, R-SD, as well as several lawmakers from hurricane-affected states.

The House companion bill, H.R. 588 by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on Jan. 23 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee.

The measures have seen exceedingly quick action this year after their initial introduction in both chambers.

The House has approved the measure in the past but the Senate version has languished.

Pallone, whose state was severely affected by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, routinely cites a New Jersey radio station that switched from a music format to all news during the storm and its aftermath to provide information to affected citizens of the Garden State.

He believes broadcasters’ ability to remain on the air and provide often life-saving information is critical.

TAB couldn’t agree more.

Broadcasters are often the only source of information in catastrophes as cell phone and Internet service has routinely failed in disaster after disaster.   

Others within the broadcast industry agree as well.

“When cellphones and internet connections go down in a crisis, local broadcasters play a critical role keeping audiences out of harm’s way,” NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton told Inside Radio.

TAB, the other state broadcast associations and the National Association of Broadcasters are in strong support of the legislation.

Some states have adopted such legislation, but Texas is not one of them, so a federal move to grant first-responder status to broadcasters would be welcome relief to broadcasters here.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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