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NAB: Time to Ditch Distant Signal License

The National Association of Broadcasters wants Congress to do away with the distant signal compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant TV station network affiliates into their markets.

In prepared testimony for a satellite hearing Sept. 10 in a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee, Gerry Waldron, representing NAB, said that the license "has outlived its usefulness and can no longer be justified." NAB says the local-into-local compulsory license, which does not expire, should be enough to handle delivering over-air signals to subs.

NAB said the only defense of it would be in hardship cases of making network programming available to a small number of households that otherwise have no access to it.

NAB adds that Congress should certainly not allow for importation of a distant signal based not on need--that small percentage of households still without a local network affiliate--but "unfair market leverage" in retrans disputes would be contrary to "decades of congressional policy" and undermine localism.

The FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski suggested waiving network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules during retrans impassses, but has taken no action on that suggestion, now a couple of years old and counting.

NAB says STELA renewal should not be about retransmission consent, which Waldron says is "not in any way relevant to STELA reauthorization," though he does concede that three provisions in the Communications Act will also sunset without STELA reauthorization are: "(1) the exemption satellite carriers enjoy from having to obtain retransmission consent from stations whose signals they provide to unserved households; (2) the prohibition against stations entering into an exclusive carriage agreement with only one cable or satellite provider; and (3) the requirement to negotiate retransmission agreements in good faith."

It is that definition of good faith negotiation where retrans reformers could work in some of their updates. NAB wants none of that.

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.