House STELA Draft Would Do Some Video Marketplace Remaking

Industry sources confirm that House republicans are working on a rewrite of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act that would not be as "clean" as broadcasters would like, but would be the kind of slightly dirty bill cable ops could definitely live with.

Confirming a report in The Hill, those sources say the bill as currently being drafted—no text yet, said one source—would require broadcasters to negotiate carriage on a cable operators basic tier as part of retrans agreements—it is not clear whether must-carry stations would lose their mandatory must-buy carriage requirement.

Must carry stations, led by Ion, Thursday formed their own coalition to push for a cleaner STELA than that early draft suggests.

The bill would also allow cable operators to negotiate retrans separately with a station and its JSA or SSA partner in a market and would do away with the FCC rules that prevent broadcast programming to go dark on cable systems during sweeps periods. It would also do away with the FCC's ban on integrated set-tops.

House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has signaled he wanted to keep retrans issues separate, but ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) does not want to push that issue into the planned Communications Act rewrite that will likely be years in the making. STELA must be renewed by year's end or it will sunset.

Keeping retrans out of the picture entirely will be a tough ask since the bill also renews the FCC''s authority to enforce good faith bargaining.

A subcommittee spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that such a draft was in the works, but saying a draft was still targeted for the end of March. The subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing on STELA next week, where the elements being reported Thursday are likely to get some vetting.

"We are being forced to strenuously oppose this bill because our members are extremely concerned," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee this week asked for input on what should be in STELA, and it included suggestions along similar lines as the reported House draft, including removing the sweeps exception, getting rid of the set-top integration ban, addressing coordinated retrans, and getting rid of the must-buy requirement.

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.