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March 5 STELA Hearing Likely To Be Postponed: Sources

According to multiple industry sources, they are expecting the House Communications Subcommittee to postpone the March 5 hearing on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).

The move could be a snow-related scheduling issue -- the federal government was shut down Monday, likely postponing a planned meeting among Republicans, which would have undoubtedly included the topic of the STELA bill they are working on.

But there is also a lot of angst among broadcasters over the cable-friendly provisions in that work-in-progress bill, which includes provisions on doing away with must-buy tier placement for retrans stations and some limit on coordinated retrans negotiations.

STELA is the law that established the blanket license allowing satellite operators to import distant affiliated network signals. It must be renewed by the end of the year of it expires. Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), had been signaling he wanted to keep retrans out STELA to the extent possible, instead addressing them in larger Communications Act revamp effort he is conducting. That was just fine with broadcasters. But with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association off the retrans sidelines and some Republicans -- Rep. Steve Scalise, notably -- looking for a bit more than a "clean" STELA bill, that may be a tougher ask.

In any event, if past is prologue, there will be much push and pull over the bill before its final passage, and, to borrow from analyst boilerplate, past versions are no promise of future bills.

A committee spokesperson was not available for comment at press time, but parent Energy & Commerce Committee Web site still listed the hearing for March 5, along with the witness list that included National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell, who has just re-upped for another three-year hitch.