Editorial: A 'Clean' STELA

Add our name to the list of those arguing for a "clean" reauthorization of STELA, the law that allows satellite operators to deliver distant network-affiliated TV station signals to subscribers without access to one of their own. There may only be about 1.5 million of those people, according to a DirecTV executive last week, but if you are one of those 1.5 million, it is a big deal.

STELA has to be reauthorized every five years -- by Dec. 31, 2014, in this case -- or it sunsets. Last time around, the bill was slowed by attempts to address various related issues, legitimate concerns all. But the result was that it did not get done on time, had to be extended twice, and at one point Congress had to go, metaphorically hat in hand, to rights holders to ask them to continue to make their programming available to satellite operators even though the license had technically expired. When the bill was passed, the license applied retroactively, which is kind of like pretending it never happened. That is no way to run a government.

This time around there are even more associated issues thanks to the rise of multiplatform, distribution and disruptive technologies—like Aereo, for instance.

That was obvious last week in a hearing on STELA reauthorization in the House Communications Subcommittee, where all those issues were raised and debated. They included retransmission consent/must carry, the syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, program bundling, Aereo, à la carte, the FCC’s ban on integrated set-tops and more.

Important issues all, and ones the Congress will need to look at as part of a deeper dive on the Cable Act of 1992 and the Communications Act of 1996 in the fact of the multiplatform video marketplace of 2013. But we associate ourselves with the remarks of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who said that dive should come after the committee has built a record and learned more about the issues and their impact. The STELA reauthorization process is probably a good vehicle for that debate, as it was last week, and for better informing members about the issues. But Dingell, now the longest-serving member of Congress, said that to try and tackle those issues, legislatively, through STELA would result in the “doggonest donnybrook in recent memory.” We agree.