Dish, DirecTV: STELA Should Be Video Reform Vehicle

In response to a request for input from the Senate Commerce Committee on the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), Dish and DirecTV dropped their hammer-and-tongs competition to file a joint response with a laundry list of suggestions including permanent reauthorization.

STELA is the law that grants a blanket license to satellite operators to deliver distant network affiliated TV stations into local markets. But it is also the only must-pass video legislation on the horizon. It could be a vehicle for various video reforms, but the cleaner the bill the more likely it will pass by the Dec. 31 deadline.

A House draft of STELA already sports a few video reforms, though ones that broadcasters, cable ops and satellite companies appear to be able to live with.

In their response to the Senate, Dish and DirecTV were clearly on the side of striking while the iron is hot, which means using STELA as a vehicle for major retrans and other reforms. "It is time for Congress to act, and STELA reauthorization presents the perfect vehicle," they wrote.

It will need to be a stretch limo to accommodate the satellite operator's wish list, which in addition to a permanent reauthorization—it is currently every five years—comprises the following:

"• Stop local programming blackouts;

• Put an end to drastic retransmission consent rate hikes; and

• Ensure that the most rural households in the U.S. have access to the same network programming as urban and suburban households.

In support of these principles, we advocate specific measures to amend current law, including:

• Authorize the FCC to impose baseball-style arbitration and a standstill so the programming stays up while the parties arbitrate their dispute; or, alternatively, permitting the importation of distant signals during retransmission consent disputes.

• Stipulate specific, anti-consumer actions that would fail the “good faith” requirement.

• Prohibit joint sales agreements and other collusive methods used by broadcasters.

• Update the definition of 'unserved household' to reflect how Americans actually receive over-the-air broadcast signals today, as opposed to how they did decades ago.

• Prohibit broadcaster blocking of online content to the broadband subscribers of a multichannel video programming distributor ('MVPD') during a dispute with that MVPD.

• Encourage the unbundling of broadcast programming from other programming, both at the wholesale and retail levels.

• Permanently reauthorize STELA."

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.