Public Knowledge to Senate: Reject STELAR

Brands Set-Top Box Provision a Cable “Giveaway”

The STELAR compromise satellite compulsory license reauthorization legislation that passed on a voice vote in the House Wednesday drew not a discouraging word among a host of Democratic and Republican members speaking out for its swift passage in the Senate.

The same could not be said for Public Knowledge, which has been pushing for an amendment to a Senate version of the bill that would have blocked the elimination of the set-top integration ban. The House version delays that elimination for a year and mandates that the FCC start looking into a successor regime for spurring the robust retail set-top market the ban failed to generate.

But PK was not assuaged. It asked the Senate to reject the bill, branding the sunset a "cable giveaway."

The license sunsets unless legislation to reauthorizes passes by Dec. 31*, which means among other things, that about 1.5 million satellite customers would lose access to distant network TV station signals.

“We strongly support Congress acting to guarantee that satellite customers don’t lose service," said Martyn Griffen, government affairs associate for Public Knowledge. "However, this STELA Reauthorization bill contains a provision pushed by Comcast and the cable industry that would harm the set-top box market, restricting consumer choice for people who don’t even subscribe to satellite. We’ve opposed a House version of the bill before and continue to oppose a Senate version that incorporates a similar provision."

So does Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is said to have put a hold on the Senate bill because of the sunset provision.   

Numerous Democratic legislators favored scrapping the ban, and even the Secretary of Energy cited its power consumption issues while testifying on Capitol Hill on another subject.

* Actually, the license could conceivably be extended, at least voluntarily, beyond that date. That is what happened the last time the license came up for reauthorization in 2009 (it must be renewed every five years), when Congress failed to pass a new bill by the Dec. 31 deadline. In that case, senators contacted copyright holders and asked them to treat the blanket license as though it were still in effect, promising to make the license retroactive when it eventually passed, which it did in the spring.