Policy

Senate Adjourns Without Satellite License Renewal

2/26/2010 4:23 PM Eastern

The Senate adjourned Friday without voting to extend satellite
operators' license to deliver network-affiliated TV station signals to
their subscribers.
That means that, unless the Senate is called
back into session by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), that license
expires midnight Feb. 28.
The Senate failed to approve a package
of extensions for various laws with Feb. 28 deadlines, including COBRA
and unemployment insurance benefits and the Satellite Home Viewer
Extension and Reauthorization Act after a single Senator took issue with
the effect of extending the insurance and unemployment benefits on the
deficit.
The House had already passed the extensions by unanimous
consent, but Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) held up a similar effort to
pass it Thursday night in the Senate, according to several Hill sources.
"As
it stands, said one Republican staffer on background, "the Senate is in
recess and the bill has not been extended."
The Majority leader
could not be reached for comment.
Republican sources said they
have had a deal for weeks with all four relevant commmittees (House and
Senate Commerce and Judiciary) on a bill, with tougher conditions for
Dish's reentry into the distant-signal business, but that leadership
would not separate it out from a jobs bill that has yet to be voted on,
betting that the extension would pass. Those tougher conditions were
apparently what stood in the way of the original bill pass back in
December, when a 60-day extension was passed along with the unemployment
and COBRA elements that have become the sticking points this time
around.
The sources also said the House had some problems with a
five-year extension meeting new pay-as-you-go budget rules, but that the
Republicans and satekholder were also OK with a 10-year extension,
which would have been enough time for the bill to score deficit-neutral.
The
tougher Dish conditions include changing the $250,000 per incident
penality to a floor of $250,000 and as much as $5 million per incident
if the No. 2 DBS provider did not make a good-faith effort to reach all
210 local markets, which was its side of the bargain to allow it to
deliver distant signals directly instead of through a third-party per a
court order.
"We offered as early as this morning to call up the
10-year framework and go, and that just wasn't done," said the
Republican staffer. He said Republicans weren't thrilled with the
10-year extension given that the framework of the bill may need tweaking
given developments in the market.
The bill acknowledges that
with calls for studies of how the license should apply to fixing
so-called split markets, and whether there should be a license at all.
"Waiting 10 years to revisit may not be the best idea, but in talking
to all the stakeholders, we got to the point where people said, 'look,
if 10 years has to be the period to extend this notwithstanding other
people's parochial concerns...to hold the House with the pay-go issue,
let's just do it.' No one objected to a 10-year extension among the
stakeholder community or among congressional offices as far as I know."
A
stand-alone 30-day extension of SHVERA (now called STELA, or the
Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act), could have run into
pay-go problems as well. Even that brief extension would create $2
million in accounting charges that would have to be offset, according to
sources. Packaging it with other extensions would allow the entire bill
to be deficit neutral, even if individual elements were not.

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