Editorial: Settling STELA Now

The Senate Commerce Committee last week asked for input on how it should approach the renewal of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, a.k.a. STELA, the law that gives satellite operators permission to deliver distant and local TV stations to their subscribers.

Now, four years later, the senators are figuring out whether to 1) think of the now, and confine it to STELArelated issues, which would be whether and how to renew blanket license, whether to allow for modification of DMAs to account for orphan counties or gerrymandered viewing areas, as well as renewing—and perhaps clarifying— the FCC’s authority to require good-faith bargaining in retransmission consent negotiations; or 2) look ahead and consider a host of issues related to the changing video marketplace.

The latter could include anything from major reforms to the retransmission consent regime, getting rid of the must-buy requirement that cable operators offer broadcast stations on the lowest tier and confining must-buy to must-carry stations to eliminating cable rate regulation, repealing the settop integration ban, limiting shared service agreements and joint sales agreements and even to extending the multichannel video programming distributor regulations to online video.

The ambitiousness of that latter course is undeniable. But had we been asked for our input (and the senators will get it regardless), we’d suggest the first course is the wisest.

STELA must be reauthorized by the end of this year; if not, it sunsets. It is already March. Last time Congress tried to make its deadline with a bill that picked up a number of issues—and not ones with the import of those above—it missed the deadline by months and had to essentially beg copyright ownership to treat satellite operators as though the blanket license had been extended on the promise that it eventually would be.

Our advice is to confine STELA in both the House and Senate to the blanket license and retrans negotiations, the latter of which will provide enough debate opportunity to make meeting the deadline an ambitious enough challenge.