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House Schedules Vote on STELAR-Related Compromise Bill

The House has scheduled a vote on suspension Tuesday (Dec. 10) on compromise STELAR-related legislation, H.R. 5035, the Television Viewer Protection Act (TVPA), that would make permanent the FCC's mandate that broadcasters and MVPDs negotiate in good faith. 

Suspension is a procedure for fast-tracking noncontroversial bills, so the bill is expected to pass.

Currently, the mandate sunsets every five years unless Congress renews it. But the TVPA does not renew the compulsory satellite license at the heart of STELAR, which was delegated to the House Judiciary but which also sunsets Dec. 31. 

The license allows satellite operators to import distant network-affiliated TV station signals to markets that lack them. 

Related: ACA Has Issues with TVPA 

The bill is expected to pass, but what happens next is unclear.  

House Energy & Commerce Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) reached the agreement on the TVPA. 

If it makes it to the President's desk--and Judiciary does indeed add the license renewal part--the bill would allow MVPD buying groups the same good faith guarantee in negotiations as individual companies, as ACA Connects had lobbied for, and still requires fee disclosures by MVPDs and prohibits MVPDs from charging consumers for some equipment.  

But where it goes next is unclear. The House Judiciary has been busy with impeachment hearings and an industry source said there did not seem to be any movement on its re-upping of the license, which broadcasters would be happy to see go. 

The Congress could punt on the issue for a couple of months in a couple of ways, passing a bill extending the license and good faith provisions until early in the New Year, as happened a decade ago. Or it could be slipped in as an extension into the continuing resolution--CR--Congress will need to pass soon to keep the government open past Dec. 20. 

No word on how the Senate is proceeding with STELAR bills on that side of the aisle, though the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has signaled he wants the compulsory license to sunset, while Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has said he thinks it is important to renew it, and has introduced a straight renewal bill and pitched it on the Senate floor.