House E&C Approves STELAR Reauthorization Bill

The House Energy & Commerce Committee Wednesday (Nov. 20) approved a compromise STELAR reauthorization bill that would make permanent the FCC's mandate the broadcasters and MVPDs negotiate in good faith. Currently, the mandate sunsets every five years unless Congress renews it. 

Rep; Doyle

Rep; Doyle

That came on vote Wednesday (Nov. 20) after bipartisan Communications Subcommittee leadership came to agreement on a compromise version of the bill, principally the addition of that permanent provision. 

Related: House E&C Strikes STELAR Renewal Deal 

The committee technically favorably reported the bill to the full House, and did so by a voice vote with no nays recorded. The vote was swift and uneventful.  

The latest version of the bill, introduced by Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) also allows MVPD buying groups the same good faith guarantee in negotiations as individual cable operators, as ACA Connects had lobbied for, though with limits on the scope of those buying groups, and still requires fee disclosures by MVPDs, more complete e-billing, and prohibits MVPDs from charging consumers for some equipment.  

Walden said he would have preferred a more open process on the bill, but said it ended up in a fairly good place. He still said he was not sure STELAR should be reauthorized, or necessarily would be since the Judiciary Committee must still renew the satellite compulsory license portion of the bill. 

Rep. Walden

Rep. Walden

But he said the permanent good faith renewal meant the days of using the legislation for targeted media reforms was over and that should mean Congress looked at those changes separately and through regular order--one of his complaints about the Doyle bill is that it was marked up in subcommittee without a hearing on the substance. 

He praised the inclusion of the MVPD buying groups provision, which both allows those groups to negotiate with broadcasters but also holds them to good faith requirements. 

He called the bill "not perfect," but said it was sound public policy that did not give everyone what they wanted.  

Doyle said he was glad to include making the good faith provision permanent, which was not part of his original bill. 

House E&C chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) called the bill pro-consumer and pro-competition.

The National Association of Broadcasters, in seeking the sunset of STELAR, has said the good faith mandate is unnecessary since it is in broadcasters' best interest to get deals done, but praised it as a better alternative.

"NAB applauds a key provision in the House Commerce Committee-passed STELAR bill today that makes permanent legislation requiring broadcasters and pay TV companies to conduct carriage negotiations in 'good faith'," said NAB president Gordon Smith. "While we continue to question the need for STELAR legislation, a 'permanent good faith' requirement is far preferable to the current five-year STELAR renewal cycle that has incentivized pay TV companies to force broadcast TV programming disruptions that harm consumers."

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.