WASHINGTON, D.C. -- National Association of Broadcasters Executive Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Affairs Rick Kaplan testified this morning at a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing on "The Broadcast Incentive Auction: Update on Repacking Opportunities and Challenges."
Below is his testimony as prepared for delivery.
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Good morning Chairmen Walden and Blackburn, Ranking Members Pallone and Doyle and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Rick Kaplan, and I am the General Counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). On behalf of NAB, I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the unprecedented repacking of nearly 1,000 TV stations as part of the broadcast TV incentive auction.
NAB has worked closely with this Subcommittee on the legislation authorizing the incentive auction and its subsequent implementation. One of the fundamental elements underpinning our collaboration has been Congress’s commitment that broadcasters and their viewers would be held harmless following the auction. In practice, this means that non-participating broadcasters would remain on the air, serve the same viewers after the auction as they did before, and not be required to incur costs when being assigned new frequencies.
At the outset, it might be helpful for me to clear up any possible misconceptions about what broadcasters are and are not asking from Congress.
First, broadcasters are not seeking any money from Congress beyond what makes us whole. We are not and have never sought to subsidize upgrades beyond our current operations.
Second, broadcasters are not proposing that Congress resets the FCC’s current 39-month repacking window. That framework has been established and the transition is underway. We are seeking, however, for Congress to make clear that no individual station should be forced off the air or have a significant reduction in service if circumstances beyond its control prevent the station’s transition at its assigned time.
Third, now is the time for Congressional action. For that reason, NAB greatly appreciates this Subcommittee’s willingness to hold this hearing and its ongoing consideration of legislative next steps. Stations are well into the transition process, with the first group required to move to their new channels just over a year from now. Stations are already incurring substantial costs and have no idea whether they are going to be fully reimbursed. In addition, stations must understand their options today should circumstances beyond their control prevent them from meeting their assigned transition deadlines.
Broadcasters have every incentive to work towards a swift transition. There is simply no benefit to our industry if there are unnecessary delays. For that reason, NAB is committed to doing our part to ensure that this first-of-its-kind auction is truly a success. We agree with CTIA that its failure would be crippling for future auctions. And nothing could be worse for the auction’s precedential value than if the number one takeaway is that incumbents were left holding the bag.
However, the outstanding issues with the incentive auction demand Congress’s attention not only because their resolution comports with the spirit of the Spectrum Act; but also, because of the critical role broadcasters play in serving communities across the country. It should not take a devastating event, such as Hurricane Harvey, to remind us just how indispensable broadcast TV and radio stations are to our nation’s safety and well-being. For communities big and small, local broadcasters and national broadcast networks combine to provide critical news and information to keep the public educated and engaged. This is precisely why CTIA’s and CCA’s wireless emergency alerts instruct consumers to “check local media,” when alerting communities to a matter of urgency.
It is also important that Congress take meaningful steps to protect those broadcasters who had no stake in the auction but are now its likely collateral damage. Hundreds of FM radio stations that are co-located with repacked TV stations may be saddled with new costs and significant service disruptions. Low power TV and translators are also struggling to maintain their ability to serve urban and rural audiences.
NAB continues to believe that with Congressional and FCC leadership, the repack can be a success. To date, Chairman Pai has more than ably guided the Commission through a repacking process that received little attention before he assumed the agency’s helm.
We are grateful to bipartisan Congressional leaders for their attention to this issue and to Ranking Member Pallone and his cosponsors for their proposed legislative solution. We look forward to continuing to work with you to help this transition proceed as smoothly as possible for all stakeholders – most critically the viewers and listeners who rely on our signals every day.
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss these issues. I look forward to your questions.
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The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.