STELA Reauthorization Clears Key Senate Committee, But Faces Two More Panels

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By Bryce Baschuk  

June 26 — House and Senate lawmakers made progress in their effort to renew the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) before it expires on Dec. 31.

On June 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee became the second congressional panel with jurisdiction over STELA to approve a five-year reauthorization of the nation's current pay-TV laws.

Both the House Judiciary and the Senate Commerce Committees are expected to introduce legislation next month to ensure that 1.5 million mostly rural Americans will be able to view distant broadcast signals they otherwise wouldn't be able to receive.

It remains unclear whether those committees will pursue a clean renewal or seek to include additional changes to the nation's video laws.

S. 2454 Approved

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act (S. 2454) by a voice vote during a brief June 26 markup.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the “straightforward bill” helps ensure that consumers “will be able to continue accessing television content in the manner they choose.”

The legislation, which now goes to the Senate floor, generally avoids any sweeping changes to the nation's satellite laws.

Durbin Amendment Adopted

The committee adopted, by unanimous consent, one technical amendment from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that permits cable companies to retransmit content, royalty free, from low-powered TV stations across a broader audience area.

Congress in 2010 expanded the definition of a broadcaster's local service area to facilitate satellite companies that choose to retransmit low-powered TV station programming.

Durbin said the amendment would enable both satellite and cable companies to transmit content from “the little guys in the broadcast world” to their subscribers.

Legislative Disparities Remain

S. 2454 differs slightly from a companion bill (H.R. 4572) the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved in May.

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.

H.R. 4572 would also eliminate coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between broadcasters in the same market and provide more time for broadcasters to unwind joint sales agreements (JSAs), as required by a recent rule change at the FCC.

Ultimately members will be required to sort out any potential differences between H.R. 4572, S. 2454 and two forthcoming STELA reauthorization bills in conference negotiations.

July Committee Action

Both the House Judiciary and Senate Commerce Committees plan to introduce their respective STELA bills in the coming months, Hill aides told Bloomberg BNA.

A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee said Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) “likely” plans to introduce his legislation in July.

Goodlatte hasn't said whether his bill will be clean or not but previously said he was interested to hear if online video providers––like Hulu, Netflix Inc. and Inc.––should be considered in Congress's regulation of the video industry.

Rockefeller Bill Pending

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, recently said he expects the panel to introduce and mark up its bill in July.

A committee spokesman said in an e-mailed statement that Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, (D-W.Va.) and Thune “are working on a bipartisan STELA bill that is expected to be ready for the committee to review soon.”

Rockefeller previously said he didn't 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.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

Read The Satellite Television Reauthorization Act here:

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