Bills Eliminating Cable, Satellite TV Licenses Draw Fire from Broadcasters

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar  

Legislation seeking to eliminate many of the laws governing television service, including some compulsory licenses that allow cable and satellite television service providers to retransmit traditional broadcast TV signals without authorization, is facing stiff opposition from broadcasters.

The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act of 2001 (H.R. 3675, S. 2008), introduced Dec. 15 by Rep. Stephen J. Scalise (R-La.) and Dec. 16 by Sen. James W. DeMint (R-S.C.), would repeal several provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, including provisions relating to use of broadcast signals by cable and satellite carriers.

The National Association of Broadcasters released a statement Dec. 16, expressing opposition to the legislation.

“Current law ensures access to quality local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings,” according to the statement by Dennis Wharton, the NAB's executive vice president of communications. “The proposed changes to the Communications Act strike at the core of free market negotiations and broadcast localism, thereby threatening a community-based information and entertainment medium that serves tens of millions of Americans each day.”

Earlier Calls for End to Licensing

The Copyright Office in 2008 issued a report recommending modification or elimination of the cable and satellite TV statutory licenses.

At a February 2009 congressional hearing, then Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters suggested that the robust development of Internet video without any compulsory licensing system suggested that statutory licensing may no longer be necessary.

Copyright, Communications Statutes Amended

The two new bills would repeal entirely two provisions of the Copyright Act:

  •  17 U.S.C. §119, the statutory license for satellite retransmission of superstations and distant network stations; and
  •  17 U.S.C. §122, the statutory license for satellite retransmission of local stations.

Also eliminated would be the bulk of 17 U.S.C. §111, which gives cable operators a statutory license to retransmit broadcast signals.

The following provisions of the Communications Act would also be among those repealed entirely:

  •  47 U.S.C. §339 (Section 339 of the Communications Act), which, pursuant to the Section 119 license, gives satellite carriers the right to retransmit two distant network affiliates and, pursuant the Section 122 license, allows “local-into-local” retransmission of all local network affiliates;
  •  47 U.S.C. §340 (Section 340 of the Communications Act), which gives satellite carriers the right to retransmit to a household a broadcast TV station that the Federal Communications Commission as designated as “significantly viewed” in that household's local market;
  •  47 U.S.C. §341 (Section 341 of the Communications Act), which allows cable and satellite services to retransmit in-state stations to viewers in a particular county; and
  • • 47 U.S.C. §612 (Section 712 of the Communications Act), the syndication exclusivity provision, which requires blocking of distant signals or superstations if a local broadcast station has licensed exclusive rights in a syndicated program.
Non-Copyright Regulation Also Axed

The twin bills also seek to eliminate several other aspects of television regulation, such as ownership caps, restrictions on “border blaster” radio services, and requirements that cable operators make some channels available for leased access and that they carry local channels.

The National Association of Broadcasters release a statement Dec. 16, expressing opposition to the legislation.

“Current law ensures access to quality local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings,” according to the statement by Dennis Wharton, the NAB's executive vice president of communications. “The proposed changes to the Communications Act strike at the core of free market negotiations and broadcast localism, thereby threatening a community-based information and entertainment medium that serves tens of millions of Americans each day.”

If enacted, the law would take effect in July 2014.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, of which DeMint is a member. On Jan. 6, the House bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet.

For More Information

House bill at http://pub.bna.com/ptcj/112hr3675ihDec15.pdf

Senate bill at http://pub.bna.com/ptcj/112s2008isDec16.pdf