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June 10 — The Senate Judiciary Committee introduced legislation to renew the nation's pay-TV laws for another five years and preserve current broadcast carriage rules. The committee plans to vote on the legislation later this month.
Renewal of the 2010 Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) would ensure that 1.5 million mostly rural Americans will be able to view distant broadcast signals they otherwise would not be able to receive.
The bill, authored by Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), “will ensure that those rural viewers are not left in the dark” when key provisions of STELA expire on Dec. 31, he said in a June 10 news release. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the committee.
The Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act of 2014 is a clean reauthorization, a two-page bill that would merely extend STELA's expiration date to Dec. 31, 2019.
The legislation differs from a companion bill (H.R. 4572) that was recently approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
H.R. 4572 includes language to retire Federal Communications Commission rules that govern video set-top box controls and eliminate rules that prohibit pay-TV distributors from blacking out broadcast content from their lineups during sweeps weeks rating measurements. It also includes language to prevent coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between broadcasters in the same market and provides more time for broadcasters to unwind joint sales agreements (JSAs) as required by a recent rule change at the FCC.
The House and Senate Judiciary committees share jurisdiction over STELA with the House and Senate Commerce committees. House Judiciary and Senate Commerce have yet to introduce STELA reauthorization bills and it remains unclear if those committees will pursue a clean renewal or seek to include additional changes to the nation's current video laws.
Senate Commerce Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) previously said he did not expect the STELA reauthorization debate to be a “clean process.” Rockefeller might seek to include elements of his Consumer Choice in Online Video Act (S. 1680) which aims to limit the ability of Internet service providers to degrade consumers' access to online video services and provide video distributors with reasonable access to broadcast and cable video content, among other provisions.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has not clarified his position but previously said he was interested to hear if online video providers—like Hulu, Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com— should be considered in Congress's regulation of the video industry.
Ultimately, Congress will have to resolve the differences in the various STELA reauthorization bills before the current law expires.
The National Association of Broadcasters said the narrow bill “ensures that communities across America will continue to benefit from local broadcast television's indispensable news, entertainment and lifeline programming,” according to a news release. “Further, this bill enables the satellite industry to serve rural America without undermining consumers' uniquely free over-the-air access to broadcast programming, particularly those viewers who are traditionally underserved by other mediums.”
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association supports Leahy's bill, said Brian Dietz, the group's spokesman.
The American Television Alliance said it was disappointed the bill does not include changes to current broadcast carriage rules.
“The retransmission consent system is now more broken than ever and STELA is the best opportunity to help provide consumers with relief from skyrocketing retrans fees and blackouts,” the ATA said in a news release.
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Read the bill here: http://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/alb14383.
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