Nets Agree to Graham's STELAR Expiration Plan

Three of the Big Four broadcast networks have agreed to ensure their viewers don't lose access to distant signals if Congress lets the STELAR compulsory satellite license expire at year's end, according to letters from those nets, and the fourth is about to do the same, according to a source familiar with the network's thinking. 

That license allows satellite providers to import distant network-affiliated TV signals into markets that lack them, and without having to negotiate individually with networks/stations for that carriage. 

Related: Sen. Graham Proposes STELAR Sunset Plan 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the top D.C. execs at ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, saying he expected the license to sunset and a free market to take over, but asked that for a one-year transition period the networks insure that no viewers would be left without the signals they had been getting via that compulsory license. 

He asked that they all give satellite providers a one-year license at rates comparable to the compulsory license rate set by the Copyright Royalty Board, that they help affiliates in their negotiations for full local-into-local coverage, and that they will regularly inform the committee of their progress. 

According to letters to Graham obtained by B&C, CBS, ABC and Fox have all agreed to Graham's terms, as it were, and NBC is expected to as well.  

CBS pointed out that due to program exclusivity guarantees it has provided to affiliates, they will have to grant a "narrow waiver" of those guarantees, but said it had talked with affiliates and that should not be an issue. 

Both Fox and CBS agreed point for point, while ABC simply said it was "prepared to ensure a smooth transition through short-term agreements with the satellite providers consistent with the approach outlined by the questions in your letter." 

Whether the license does actually expire at the end of the year is still an open question. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has scheduled a markup next week on his bill to renew the license for another five years. Wicker's and Graham's committees split jurisdiction over the issue. 

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.