NAB: Congress Should Consider Expiration of Distant-Signal License

Says Whatever it Does, Localism Should Be Guiding Principle
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Broadcasters are looking for a narrow reauthorization of the satellite distant signal compulsory license -- or perhaps no reauthorization at all.

The National Association of Broadcasters plans to tell Congress that the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act should not be used to revise retrans or "delving into extraneous issues that undermine localism," but that perhaps it should consider letting the distant-signal license sunset.

That is according to the prepared testimony from NAB exec Jane Mago for the Feb. 13 House Communications Subcommittee on reauthorizing the satellite compulsory license.

That license allows satellite carriers to retransmit distant affiliated TV station signals into markets that cannot receive a local affiliate of the same network. Satellite operators do not have to negotiate for that carriage, and they can import nearby significantly viewed stations as well as distant ones. The license expires every five years, unless renewed, and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014.

"While originally adopted to provide network programming to the large number of satellite viewers unable to receive it from their local station, today more than 98% of viewers have the option of viewing network programming from their local affiliate," said NAB.

Whatever the decision, says NAB, localism should be the focus. "The starting point for considering this legislation must be localism - the bedrock principle rooted in the Communications Act of 1934 that has guided communications and related copyright policy for decades," said Jane Mago. "Congress should continue to rebuff the efforts of the satellite and cable industries to persuade the government to intervene in free-market retransmission negotiations."

Mago suggests that the local-into-local compulsory license is the better way to handle local station carriage -- that is the requirement that if a satellite carrier offers any local TV station in a market he must offer all, essentially a must-carry provision similar to that for cable.

One issue that will almost certainly surface in the reauthorization process is the FCC's proposed changes to the Longley-Rice model of calculating TV station coverage areas.