House Judiciary Passes 'Clean' Satellite Bill

With no amendments and little discussion, the House Judiciary Committee Thursday approved on a voice vote a "clean" Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 5036), which extends the compulsory license in the expiring Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) of 2010. It also extends the FCC's authority to require good faith retransmission consent negotiations.

Broadcasters have been pushing for a clean reauthorization, while cable ops want retrans and other reforms to be included.

A bill must pass by year's end, or the license that allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals into markets without a comparable viewable signal will expire, affecting some 1.5 million viewers.

Committee members raised various issues they said they would deal with in other contexts, including retrans issues, particularly blackouts, but said that since stakeholders could not come to a consensus on what to do about them, they would pass a clean bill and defer those issues.

Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said that while those stakeholders could not agree on those other issues, they could agree that the license should not expire.

Ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) urged stakeholders to work together on those other issues, and said Congress needs to consider the impact of retrans disputes on consumers, but he, too, supported the "clean" bill approach.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), introduced and then withdrew an amendment that would have allowed satellite operators to import distant signals to so-called "orphan counties," ones that, due to Nielsen market maps don't get local news and information—or local sports teams.

Goodlatte promised to work with Collins on finding another venue to address the problem, saying he had the same issue in his district.

Collins was clearly unhappy that cable and broadcast stakeholders were not able to agree on some way to help those counties. He said he had had those stakeholders in his office and while they were at war and "would not move" on their positions, his orphan counties—four of them—were the hostages. He said he could at least tell his constituents who was to blame.

Collins said that they were at the point of protecting business models at the expense of consumers and that is not how either Congress or business should work.

Goodlatte and Internet Subcommittee chairman Howard Coble (R-N.C.). both said they want swift passage of the bill, which historically has not been the case, though the odds are likely better with a cleaner bill.

A bill containing retrans reform has passed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and a "clean" version has been introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, so there is still work to do in reconciling those, getting the Senate Commerce Committee's input, and getting a bill through both Houses, particularly as legislators prepare for their summer break and upcoming elections.

"NAB thanks Chairmen Goodlatte and Coble for guiding through the House Judiciary Committee a sensible, non-controversial STELA reauthorization bill ensuring that satellite TV subscribers without access to local TV signals can continue receiving popular programming from broadcast TV networks," said National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith. "NAB strongly supports this practical approach to 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.