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Limited Government Group Wants to Limit Satellite Bill

Americans for Limited Government want a limited satellite reauthorization bill as well, or preferably no new compulsory license at all.

In a letter to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Americans for Limited Government president Nathan Mehrens said that it would be better for the satellite compulsory license to expire and program negotiations revert to the marketplace. But if it has to be extended, any such reauthorization should exclude retransmission consent reforms.

"Congress has recognized broadcasters' right to compensation for the product of their labor from cable and satellite providers for retransmission of their stations' valuable signals to subscribers," Mehrens said. "Under the current system, broadcasters and pay television providers negotiate in the free market to reach mutually beneficial agreements — with agreements successfully reached an overwhelming majority of the time.  It would be a mistake for the federal government to hobble broadcasters' right to negotiate fair market value for their product."    

The government reform group Council for Citizens Against Government Waste sees it differently. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) last month, it asked that the retrans reforms be included in a satellite bill. “These changes to the legislation would reflect the current, competitive marketplace, which includes satellite TV, and are therefore appropriate to be included in any reauthorization of STELA,” said the group’s president, Thomas Schatz.

The Senate Judiciary version of a new Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) bill, which has been rechristened Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STARA), passed out of the Judiciary Committee last month without any additional video reforms. A House Judiciary Committee draft version scheduled to be marked up this week is similarly unadorned for now, but a House Energy & Commerce Committee version does have retrans reforms, specifically a ban on coordinated negotiations in some instances.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees and Commerce (Senate) and Energy & Commerce (House) Committees share jurisdiction on the issue and must reconcile their various versions before a bill can pass the House and Senate, which has to happen by year's end or the license expires.

The satellite legislation provides for a compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals into a local market that does not have its own. It also renews the FCC's ability to enforce good faith retrans negotiations.

“There is overwhelming support from conservative and free-market groups for retransmission consent reform because the current retrans regime is a far cry from the free market," said the American Television Alliance, which has been pushing for retrans reforms. "In the same breath, broadcasters demand that the government require carriage of their channels at the same time they insist retrans is the free market. We all deserve 21st Century video rules and regulations that reward innovation, rather than continuing these artificial and antiquated policies that enable broadcasters to punish consumers with skyrocketing fees and blackouts.”