Compromise STELAR Draws Praise

Must Pass in Lame Duck Session or Satellite License Expires
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The bipartisan, bicameral compromise Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act (who says there are no second acts in politics) being introduced in the House has drawing praise from various quarters.

Multichannel News reporeted Nov. 17 that the bill was being introduced today by key congressional leaders and that it was a combination of elements from House and Senate versions of the reauthorization of the compulsory satellite license, which expires every five years. That reauthorization must pass by year's end or 1.5 million satellite customers would lose access to distant network TV station signals and the FCC would lose the authority to enforce good faith retransmission consent negotiations.

Dish and DirecTV, whose 1.5 million customers would be losing their signals, thanked all the legislators who got together on the bill, which it says "makes important reforms to the outdated laws governing today’s video marketplace, while ensuring continuity of service to more than 1.5 million distant signal subscribers who would, otherwise, lose service at the end of this year," adding: "We look forward to working with Congressional leadership to see this reauthorization swiftly passed into law. We also look forward to continuing the important discussion regarding retransmission onsent reform, and in particular protecting consumers from local channel blackouts.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association cited the same legislators, who it said "have worked together to craft bipartisan legislation that advances targeted video reforms, including the extension of expiring provisions that will help affected satellite consumers continue to receive their broadcast signals."

NCTA was particularly pleased that the compromise bill still does away with the Set-top integration ban that Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) had been pushing to amend in ways NCTA was not partial too--like delaying it and conditioning it on finding a successor regime to spurring a retail set-top box market. "We are especially pleased that the legislation also sunsets the FCC's Integration Ban rule – an unnecessary technology mandate that violates principles of competitive neutrality and forces cable customers leasing set-top boxes to bear added costs and higher energy use for no additional benefit," said NCTA. "In this way, the bill rightly recognizes that ongoing support for retail devices is not advanced by rules that impose costs on consumers who elect to lease equipment. Finally, we welcome congressional attention to address potential anticompetitive harm negotiations, by barring coordination in retransmission consent negotiations among local broadcast stations that are not commonly owned. We urge the Congress to act on this must-pass legislation.”

“We commend the bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee for reaching agreement on the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick. "This legislation takes the first of several needed steps toward creating a level playing field for all competitors in the 21st century video marketplace. We look forward to working with the committees in the 114th Congress to build on this solid foundation so that video consumers can enjoy the full array of competitive choices in programming they deserve.”

"This legislation is a clear and convincing win for consumers. It serves as evidence that Congress recognizes that the current retransmission consent system is broken," said the American Television Alliance, which has been pushing for retrans reforms. "The changes in the legislation embody the first steps to curbing skyrocketing retrans fees and local channel blackouts affecting millions of consumers. There is more to do but we greatly appreciate the efforts Congress has begun to reform retransmission consent and we encourage the House and Senate to move this legislation expeditiously."