With STELAR up for renewal, lobbying group asks members to step up efforts

ATLANTA -- With the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) set to expire at the end of the year, the chief lobbying group for small cable operators was optimistic it could manage to eke out some retransmission consent reform in its renewal.

At a panel session during the National Cable Television Co-operative’s Winter Education Conference here moderated by American Cable Association president and CEO Matt Polka, ACA senior vice president of government affairs Ross Lieberman said the organization has had some luck in the past in including some modest retrans reform in the act. STELAR comes up for renewal every five years -- the last was in 2014. In 2014, some cable-friendly changes to the act included re-upping the FCC requirement for “good-faith” negotiations and the agency’s ban on stations without common ownership banding together to negotiate retrans deals in a market.

l to r: ACA president and CEO Matt Polka, ACA SVP of Government Affairs Ross Lieberman, Kelley Drye & Warren LLC Partner Thomas Cohen, Cinnamon Mueller Managing Partner Bruce Beard, Alpine Group Executive Vice President Ansley Erdel 

l to r: ACA president and CEO Matt Polka, ACA SVP of Government Affairs Ross Lieberman, Kelley Drye & Warren LLC Partner Thomas Cohen, Cinnamon Mueller Managing Partner Bruce Beard, Alpine Group Executive Vice President Ansley Erdel 

Lieberman said that one of the ideas that has re-entered the mix is that of local choice, which would allow a broadcaster to set a price for its channel, which cable operators then can offer a la carte to their subscribers.

“If broadcasters think their channel is worth $10, we’ll find out,” Lieberman said.

Alpine Group executive vice president Ansley Erdel said that broadcasters have been lobbying hard to let STELAR expire, an effort she believes will fall flat. But she urged small operators to continue to inform their legislators of their side of the issue.

Related: NAB Launches Fight Against STELAR Renewal 

“Broadcasters all have a relationship with members of Congress,” Erdel said. “The only way they hear the other side of the story is if you tell them.”

Lieberman also underscored the importance of Federal Communications Commission moves to allocate a portion of C-band spectrum currently earmarked for video transport for 5G wireless transmission. While the industry was reluctantly OK with early plans to allocate about 100 MHz of the 500 MHz C-band for 5G, recently some have advocated 200 MHz, 300 MHz or even 400 MHz to be used for 5G. That could be devastating for small operators, he said.

Related: Charter: CBA C-Band Proposal Equals Backroom Deals, Windfall Profits

“This should concern your greatly because you are highly dependent on that spectrum to deliver video programming,” Lieberman said. “Higher prices are likely to result, the programmers are going to pay more and those prices will be passed along to you.”

He added that some legislators recognize the danger, but that there is a question as to whether that is fully resonating with all members of Congress.

Related: ACA: FCC Must Protect C-Band Incumbents 

Erdel said that while noise around net neutrality has gotten louder after the Democrats took the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, there is a growing feeling that a bipartisan solution could be worked out before the 2020 presidential election.

“There are people who recognize if the administration changes in 2020, we could start all over again,” Erdel said “There are a lot of legislators who would like to see something in place.”

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