NCTA Says It Is OK With STAVRA Bill

Praises Targeted Reforms, Urges Action

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association accentuated the positive in S. 2799, urging "swift passage" of the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA), a new version of Senate Commerce Committee satellite compulsory license reauthorization legislation.

The bill has been pared of many of its original video reforms, like the "Local Choice" remake  of the retrans system cable ops had applauded, and getting the FCC into vetting retrans contracts and over-the-top video access. But, it puts an exclamation point on FCC efforts to prevent coordinated retrans by non-commonly owned stations in the same market, and makes some other "targeted" reforms, which NCTA suggested were on balance a positive.

It also gets rid of the ban on on integrated set-tops, which had been one of NCTA's big asks.

"We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Chairman [Jay] Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Ranking Member [John] Thune (R-S.D.) for introducing S. 2799... As introduced, we believe that this bill provides clear benefits to consumers by extending expiring provisions and making targeted video reforms that are appropriate given the realities of today’s competitive marketplace. We are especially pleased that the legislation 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. Further, the legislation rightly addresses concerns of anticompetitive harm in retransmission consent negotiations, by barring such coordination among local broadcast stations that are not commonly owned."

NCTA said it wanted the committee to act quickly on the must-pass bill.

Broadcasters appeared to be relatively content with the new bill as well. "NAB sincerely appreciates the efforts of the Senate Commerce Committee leaders and staff to negotiate a bipartisan bill to reauthorize STELA, called STAVRA," said NAB President Gordon Smith. "Though we continue to have some concerns, we applaud the changes made in this package that represent significant improvements for local broadcasting that NAB is pleased to see included."

Both sides wanted more out of the bill, or in the case of broadcasters, less, since it was fighting the retrans changes. But the bill has to pass by year's end and there is not much time left in the legislative session before the exodus for elections then the post-election lame duck session. Rockefeller had signaled during the satellite renewal process that he was frustrated with the inability of both sides to come to a compromise.

The bill extends for another five years the compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant network affiliated TV signals, and renews the FCC's authority to mandate good faith retrans negotiations.

A clean version of a satellite bill--a straight reauthorization of the license and good faith provisions--has already passed in the Judiciary Committee, and the final Senate version must be reconciled with the House-passed version, passed in both Houses and signed by the President, or the license and FCC authority expire at year's end.