DirecTV to Hill: STELA Bill Draft Is Step in Right Direction

DirecTV says it likes the way the House Communications Subcommittee draft of the Satellite Television Extension and Loclism Act (STELA) is shaping up.

That is according to the prepared testimony of DirecTV executive VP Mike Palkovic for the March 12 STELA hearing.

Palkovic makes the point that given the bill is mostly about reauthorizing satellite operators' blanket license to import distant signals, the fact that it at least does that, and for another full five-year hitch, is important.

"More than 1.5 million subscribers, many in the most rural areas of the country, receive at least one distant network signal from DirecTV or Dish," he says. "I think we can all agree that these subscribers have as much right to receive network television as those in big cities. But only STELA permits them to receive that programming. In many cases, only STELA permits them to receive network television at all."

While satellite operators deliver most network affiliates in most markets, distant signals allow them to offer the full complement of the Big Four to the smaller markets without that full complement.

He also highlights the bill's proposed prohibition on coordinated retrans negotiations among more than two independently owned stations in a market unless the MVPD agrees to it.

"Does the discussion draft contain everything DirecTV thinks it should? Of course not," he says. "But it does two critically important things. It preserves service for millions of distant signal subscribers. And it addresses one particularly egregious abuse of the FCC's rules that is raising prices for consumers."

That abuse Palkovic is referring to is the coordinated retrans provision.

The exec points out that DirecTV would be OK with sweeping deregulation along the lines of legislation that has been proposed by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). The legislation would essentially take a chainsaw to legacy regs, repealing compulsory copyright licenses, getting rid of must-carry/retrans regs and lifting media ownership rules.

The other option is to update video regs to make them "smarter" and more reflective of the current marketplace, with the discussion draft taking at least a step in that direction. He said there was something to be said for the step-by-step approach, with other steps taken in a communications law rewrite process the subcommittee has teed up for 2015, given that broadcasters and pay TV providers disagreed on some things. For example, he said, "broadcasters think our subscribers don't pay them enough for their programming. We wish broadcasters would pay us for delivering their signals to millions upon millions of our subscribers who would never be able to get them over the air."

"Whatever one's views on these broader issues, however, most people agree that you shouldn’t be able to evade FCC rules through legal tricks," he tells the committee. "Yet this is exactly what broadcasters are doing today [via joint retrans negotiations]—and this is exactly what the discussion draft would stop."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.