House Judiciary OKs Sunset of Most of Satellite License

Would incent DirecTV to serve 12 markets where it does not carry local TVs
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The latest shoe has dropped in the ongoing saga of STELAR reauthorization/not reauthorization, and it is a hefty wingtip in favor of broadcasters. 

The House Judiciary Committee Thursday (Nov. 21) approved the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019, which would sunset most of the Sec. 119 satellite compulsory network affiliate TV station distant signal license, but make it permanent for so-called short markets and for RV's, truckers and others on the move. 

Related: Judiciary Delays Satellite License Bill Markup

"Congress originally created the section 119 license in 1988 when the satellite industry was in its infancy, said Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill. "The license was enacted as a temporary measure with the goal of ensuring that the newer satellite industry could effectively compete with cable. The Congress of 1988 would consider this mission accomplished." 

Broadcasters have been pushing for a sunset and would have preferred the whole enchalada, but the bill does take a bite out of the license.

In order to get that permanent short-market and R/trucker compulsory license, DirecTV will have to deliver local signals into the dozen, smallest, markets where it has chosen not to deliver any broadcast signals via satellite. Dish already serves all 210. Broadcasters have long pushed the carrier to carry those stations, though it counters that it has integrated over-the-air versions into its service where stations deliver a viewable signal. 

"This legislation also acknowledges that some households might run the risk of losing access to these stations in a purely market-based system," said Nadler. "These include households in short markets, where at least one of the four network stations is missing, and RVs and commercial trucks, which are not in fixed locations. The license is made permanent for these two groups. 

Related: House E&C Approves STELAR Reauthorization-Related Bill

"Under H.R. 5140, most of the license expires, as Congress intended 30 years ago, while the statute is made permanent for some of the most vulnerable subscribers. And in that process, H.R. 5140 helps bring local television into these communities." 

The bill must still be voted on in the House and reconciled with a Senate bill, where at least chairman of a relevant committee--Commerce chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is a strong supporter of renewing the license. 

"Congress originally created the section 119 license in 1988 when the satellite industry was in its infancy," said Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill. "The license was enacted as a temporary measure with the goal of ensuring that the newer satellite industry could effectively compete with cable. The Congress of 1988 would consider this mission accomplished." 

That mission included a slight modification, an amendment from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) that extended the original 130-day glide path for DirecTV to deliver those signals to 180 days, as well as unlimited automatic 90-day extensions, so long as DirecTV files a notice to the Copyright Office that it is making a good faith effort to deliver those signals. But it also gives broadcasters a private right of action in civil court if they thought the satellite operator was not making such a good faith effort. 

The amendment also clarified that satellite operators would not lose access to the permanent portions of the license if they were not delivering stations in all 210 markets due to a retrans impasse. 

Republicans grudgingly agreed to support the bill--it passed on a voice vote with no request for a recorded one--but complained that the bill had not had a legislative hearing where issues could be discussed, and were not particularly happy with the amendment either.  

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) complained that they were voting on a bill that they did not even have before Monday (Nov. 18) and only weeks before the license was set to expire. "Why didn't we have a hearing on this?" 

Collins, who would have rather seen the license expire altogether, said the 20 years the law had been in existence was enough time to wind down the bill given the changing marketplace, and now they were adding on another 60 days to the 120-day wind down. He said it should have terminated "a long time ago."

"Local TV stations and broadcast networks thank the House Judiciary Committee for advancing this balanced approach to satellite carriage of local broadcast signals," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "While we continue to question the need for STELAR reauthorization, we support this legislation that would have AT&T-owned DIRECTV fulfill its decade-old pledge to provide tens of thousands of subscribers with access to local TV stations serving their communities. We appreciate Chairman Nadler and ranking member Collins’ leadership on this legislation and look forward to working with lawmakers on ensuring every American has access to local broadcast television."

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