Policy

Satcasters Heed Hill Plea: Distant Signals Still Sent

3/01/2010 1:59 PM Eastern

DirecTV and the National Programming Service were still delivering distant affiliate TV station signals to their customers Monday although, technically, they no longer had the statutory authority to do so.
That came after top members of the Judiciary Committees in both the House and Senate sent letters asking them to continue delivering those signals to their subscribers. Congress failed to pass a bill either reauthorizing the distant signal license or extending the old license, which expired at midnight on Feb. 28. The legislators promised that in whatever legislation they passed there would be a clause making it retroactive to Feb. 28.
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer confirmed that the company was continuing to deliver signals to 1.7 million customers, citing the legislators' promise.
A spokesman for National Programming Service was not available for comment, but operators at its customer service center said it was continuing to deliver its distant station signals from New York, San Francisco, Chicago and L.A.
Dish is not allowed to deliver its own distant signals stemming from a court ruling on its ability, or lack thereof, to properly identify who qualified to receive those signals, which can only be delivered to subs who cannot receive a viewable signal of their local affiliate. The bill, whose hold-up prompted the letter last week, includes a path to distant-signal delivery for Dish. The hold-up was related, in part, to some Republican concern about letting Dish back in that business. The bill as most recently constituted contains some tougher conditions on Dish -- including the amount of the fine if they fail to deliver local signals in the last couple dozen or so markets, which was the quid pro quo for being allowed back into the distant-signal business.
As part of a package of extensions of deadlines for things like health and unemployment insurance, the House last week passed by unanimous consent a bill extending the current satellite license to March 28. But the Senate failed to follow suit after the package of extensions got caught up in a tussle between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and at least one Republican Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) over the insurance and unemployment provisions' impact on the deficit. One Senator can obviously stymie a UC vote, which is a way to fast-track a bill so long as nobody opposes it.
There could also be some deficit problem with the planned five-year renewal of the satellite license according to a Republican source who said there were accounting issues related to pay-go, the new directive that Congress must cut wherever they spend. A 10-year renewal was offered up by some Senate Republicans to deal with that accounting issue.
The Senate does not return until March 2, but some movement is expected on a satellite bill, or at least another extension, this week.

September