Judiciary Committee Chiefs Ask For Distant-Signal Status Quo

Congress has called on the satellite and broadcast industries to maintain the status quo and keep delivering distant network TV station signals even if the license that allows them to do so expires Feb. 28.

According to a copy of a letter to some of the key stakeholders Friday -- including DirecTV, Dish Network and distant signal distributor National Programming Service -- the chair and ranking member of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees urged them to " temporarily maintain the status quo in such an event in order to avoid disrupting the provision of "lifeline" network programming to hundreds of thousands of Americans."

Dish confirmed it had received a copy of the letter.

The license allows satellite operators, or in Dish's case NPS, since a court has precluded it from distant-signal delivery, to deliver network TV affiliate signals to subs who can't get one of their own.

The legislators promised to hold them harmless and include in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), whenever it does pass or get extended, a "look-back" provision to protect them. They also advised that there is a version of STELA that all have agreed to and is ready for action by the full Congress.

The legislation is currently part of a jobs' bill expected to be acted on next week, though some Republican sources said there might be a pay-go problem with the bill as a five, rather than a 10-year extension.

Signing on to the letter were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.) chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ranking members Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

They pointed out what had become obvious by Friday afternoon -- that "there is a possibility disputes not germane to the copyright law or satellite television may prevent Congress from enacting STELA or a short-term temporary extension before expiration."

The Senate adjourned Friday without passing an extension, and is not scheduled to return until Tuesday, March 2.

Also scheduled to receive copies were BMI, ASCAP, The Motion Picture Association of America, NAB, the U.S. Copyright Office and Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

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.