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Federal Spending Bills Include $1 Billion More for Repack Fund

- Key SANDy Act provisions added

The spending bills passed by Congress and approved by the White House last week include the $1 billion in additional funding broadcasters had requested for the spectrum repack fund. The boost is thanks in part to the leadership of several Texans in key House positions who met with TAB’s broadcaster delegation in the days leading up to the final deadline for changes. It marks yet another major win for the industry with a significant Texas flavor after Congress refused to include an Ad Tax in the federal tax restructuring plan adopted in December.

The additional $1 billion for the spectrum repack fund is spread over two fiscal years, with $600 million in FY18 and $400 million in FY19. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, and the funds do not expire until 2023.

The monies supplement the $1.75 billion originally allocated for the repack fund and ensure that all full power TV broadcasters, FM Radio stations and translators, low-power TV stations and TV translators are eligible to recoup costs stemming from the spectrum repack.

The NAB’s formidable governmental relations team expertly managed the appropriations timing, seizing on their internal mastery of the congressional process and deftly utilizing personal relationships that TAB and other state broadcast associations have nurtured with their members of Congress over the past several years, particularly on this issue.

NAB staff note that the size of the appropriation and short timeframe for securing it underscores the breadth and influence of local broadcasters, providing for perspective the fact that the total FCC appropriation for FY18 is just more than $900 million and two-thirds of that entire appropriation is the repack funding.

Texas Thanks
TAB encourages broadcasters to express thanks to lawmakers on the House Energy & Commerce and Appropriations committees who were so responsive to our concerns.  An email address for the appropriate staffer is embedded in the lawmaker names listed below.

Energy & Commerce committee members deserving special thanks include Reps. Bill Flores, R-Waco, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, the only two Texans on the Telecommunications Subcommittee.  Flores and Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, were especially key, co-authoring the legislation that was the impetus for ensuring that FM Radio stations and translators were covered in the repack fund.

Also included are Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; John Culberson, R-Houston; and Kay Granger, R-Arlington, all of whom serve on the Appropriations Committee and supported TAB’s request for the additional funds.

Just as with the spectrum repack fund, TAB had spent years lobbying key members of the Texas congressional delegation to reject calls for an Ad Tax. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, agreed with broadcasters and was supported by at least seven other Texas members of Congress who signed onto a letter opposing such a measure.

The forces advocating for additional federal revenue sources or seeking to avoid taxation were unrelenting, and TAB – working hand in glove with NAB – similarly kept up the pressure until the last moment, weighing in with Brady again at a key final deadline with scores of signatures from the Houston area to bolster his position with other lawmakers.

Both achievements were hugely significant and rooted in part in TAB’s tireless advocacy and the leadership of individual station owners and executives who routinely engage in TAB’s efforts.

Provisions of the SANDy Act, which TAB also had supported since it was first introduced after Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast, were included in the spending bill and designate TV and Radio broadcasters as “essential service providers” during times of emergency. This language is intended to prevent a federal agency from impeding access to broadcast facilities for repair or restoration of service during an emergency or major disaster.

TAB’s DC communications counsel, Scott Flick with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, notes that the establishment of a federal “First Informer” status for broadcasters may expedite the adoption, where needed, of state policies setting forth how broadcast personnel can quickly identify themselves to government officials in order to gain access to a disaster area.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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