A House subcommittee passed a bill unanimously Thursday that could mean higher bills next year for millions of satellite-TV subscribers.
Under the legislation, copyright fees for distant-network signals and superstations would go up in 2005 by an amount equal to the rise in national inflation since 2000. The bill also set the stage for rates to increase again in 2006 under a different formula.
Millions of consumers who subscribe to superstations (independent TV stations beamed across the country) and distant networks would be affected, assuming that their direct-broadcast satellite providers passed through the increase.
The higher fees would flow to copyright owners of the programming, such as Hollywood studios and professional-sports leagues.
The higher copyright fees were approved by the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the panel's chairman, said the increase would not be burdensome because DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network are prospering in the pay TV markets.
"I don't see how anyone can object to some adjustment in fees that haven't increased in five years," Smith said.
All DBS customers are eligible to receive superstations, which include WPIX in New York and WSBK in Boston. Distant networks are typically the feeds of NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox in New York and Los Angeles that are beamed to dish owners who can't use antennas to receive the same programming locally.
The current monthly copyright fee is about 19 cents per subscriber for each superstation and about 15 cents for each network signal.