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House Passes Bill Extending Satellite Blanket License to April 30

The House passed HR 4851 on March 17, according to a Hill staffer
following the satellite bill's progress. The bill is a stop-gap measure that extends
until April 30 the satellite blanket license, along with other programs--like unemployment
benefits--that had been scheduled to sunset back in December. Now the bill must
go to the Senate for passage before March 28, when the current license expires.

The House is also currently considering the Senate-passed full,
five-year reauthorization of the satellite license, which allows satellite companies
to offer distant network TV station signals to subs who can't receive a viewable
local version. When Congress failed to pass a five-year extension of the license
back in December, it was extended to Feb. 28, then to March 28, along with several
jobs-related programs that were also scheduled to sunset Dec. 31, 2009. But that
bill has other problems, said a Senate Judiciary Committee source, and may not pass
before the March 28 deadline.

When the full, five-year extension does pass, it is expected
to include a provision for providing satellite delivery of local signals to the
remaining couple dozen markets where it has been uneconomical to deliver them.

That is thanks to a deal that allows Dish Network back into the
business of delivering distant signals in exchange for serving those markets. Dish
has been barred from distant signal delivery after a court concluded it had not
accurately identified the subs who qualified for them. Determining eligibility is
key, since a local ABC affiliate, for example, does not want a distant ABC affiliate
to be imported to viewers who can receive its signal.

The bill is also expected to have an advanced timetable for Dish
carriage of noncommercial stations' HD signals. A spokesperson for the Association
for Public Television Stations said this week that they were still negotiating a
private deal for HD carriage that would make that amendment moot.

Dish has said in the past that it would be hard pressed to find
the satellite capacity to meet the timetables for both the delivery of local-into-local
signals and the expedited HD carriage.