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Congress Schedules Hearings Next Week for Satellite Regulations

Congress is getting down to business next week on the issue of satellite carriage of TV stations in the digital age.

Both the House and Senate will be holding hearings on reauthorizing the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act which, among other things, allows satellite companies to import distant network signals to viewers who cannot receive a similar local signal, as well as setting the rules of the road for retransmission of broadcast signals by satellite in general.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is Feb. 25, while a House hearing in the Communications, Tech & Internet Subcommittee will also be held, according to a spokesman for DISH Network Chairman Charles Ergen, who is scheduled to testify at both hearings.

Also scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing are NAB/TVB Board Chair James Yager of Barrington Broadcasting and Martin Franks of CBS.

While the Energy & Commerce Committee did not have its hearing schedule or witnesses on its Web site at press time, Rep Rick Boucher (D-VA), the new chair of the House Communications, Tech & Internet Subcommittee telegraphed that his first hearing as chairman would be on that subject.

Boucher wants to require satellite operators to carry local TV stations in all markets, including the 30 mostly rural markets (including one in Boucher's district) where satellite operators do not carry the local stations, he says.

Unlike cable operators, Dish and DirecTV do not have a must-carry mandate for local stations, though they must carry all stations in a market where they chose to carry any.

Boucher has company; Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has introduced a bill that would mandate satellite carriage of local TV stations in every market, including the two such markets in his district that currently don't get those stations.

Congress established the blanket license in 1988 so that the then-fledgling satellite industry could deliver distant station signals into local markets that could not receive a sufficiently strong signal from their local affiliate.

The license wasn't permanent, with Congress anticipating that satellite would eventually negotiation individually with stations, but it has continued to reauthorize the license at five-year intervals since then.