Free Press to Hill: Drop JSA, CableCard Provisions Out of STELA

Free Press is advising the House Communications Subcommittee to drop a provision in a Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) draft that would prevent the FCC from making immediate changes to TV station joint sales agreements (JSAs) and another that would remove the FCC ban on integrated set-top boxes.

In testimony for the March 12 subcommittee hearing on STELA, Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood says Congress should extend the blanket distant signal license. He also says the provision that would prevent coordinated retrans negotiations could theoretically reduce some anticompetitive harms, too, though are short of changes needed, but would fail to address "other harms to competition, localism and viewpoint diversity that such agreements cause."

Free Press says the draft primarily needs to scrap provisions that would not allow the FCC to make joint sales agreements attributable as ownership interests until it had completed its 2010 quadrennial ownership rule review--its current plan is to do JSAs first; and scrapping the ban on integrated set-tops, which has required cable operators to use CableCard security devices in their boxes, as well as support those in retail boxes.

Either of those provisions, if they remained in the bill, "would decrease competition, localism and diversity in local broadcasting, maintain high barriers for small businesses and new entry, and slow the pace of competition and innovation in the market for set-top boxes and other video devices," said Wood.

The draft has a long way to go before it would make it into law. STELA must be reauthorized by the end of the year or its blanket license and provisions authorizing the FCC to enforce good faith retrans negotiations sunset. But first it must be vetted by commerce and judiciary committees in both Houses of Congress.

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.