NAB's Smith to Congress: Let STELAR Expire

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith is making his case to Congress for why the STELAR Act should be allowed to sunset, including that edge providers have changed the video marketplace dramatically.

STELAR is the latest name for the bill, which dates from 1988, that established the compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station affiliates into local markets that lack them for a variety of reasons.

The act must be renewed (and historically renamed) every five years or it sunsets.

"Thirty years ago, nascent satellite television companies were temporarily given a significantly discounted copyright license that allowed them to better compete with big cable monopolies at a time when there were millions of Americans who could not receive their local broadcast stations over the air, from cable or from satellite," Smith plans to tell the House Communications Subcommittee, according to his prepared testimony for a June 4 hearing, “STELAR Review: Protecting Consumers in an Evolving Media Marketplace."

Smith said Congress has achieved its goal of a competitive marketplace now essentially unrecognizable from the one that prompted the law. He said there are now "no technological impediments to providing satellite viewers with their local broadcast stations rather than out-of-market substitutes," which he points out Dish has been doing for a decade.

"Viewers will benefit from eliminating this outdated law, ensuring they receive the local content most relevant to them. In rare instances where a local broadcast channel is not available, private business arrangements between satellite TV providers and broadcasters can resolve these issues," he said.

That is a reference to one of the situations in which the license is used to import distant signals—so-called short markets that lack all of the Big Four affiliates.

Smith also said the part of the law that requires broadcasters and pay-TV providers, including cable, to negotiate in good faith has provided no quantifiable benefit, its good-faith origins notwithstanding.

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.