Rep. Golden: Satellite License Has Outlived Its Usefulness

Broadcasters have more friends in high places, as in on The Hill, for their effort to sunset the satellite distant signal license, though that is itself a high hill to climb.

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The license allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals--without negotiating payments--to markets without those signals, whether because a satellite operator doesn't carry any stations in a market or a market lacks that affiliate. The license--most recently reauthorized in the STELAR Act five years ago--expires at the end of this year unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Broadcasters want the license gone; satellite operators want it renewed in perpetuity, and cable operators want the STELAR Act, which authorizes it, to remain on the books in part as a vehicle for retransmission consent reforms.

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"It is clear that the distant signal license has outlived its usefulness," said Rep. Jared Golden (D-Me.) in a letter to the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees, which together will consider how and whether to renew the STELAR Act.

Golden joins the Maine Senate delegation, which also has issues with the license.

All politics is local, and that is Golden's issue with the license. DirecTV does not deliver local TV station signals in Presque Isle, Maine, but instead imports distant signals using the license. Unlike cable operators, satellite operators have no must-carry mandate to carry all TV stations, though if they choose to carry one station in a market, they must carry all.

Golden said the license was supposed to be temporary back when it was passed 30 years ago when it was not technologically feasible for the national satellite services to deliver TV stations to every market. It is now feasible, though there are still a dozen or so of the smallest markets where DirecTV does not deliver any local stations, a sore point with local broadcasters.

It is also a sore point with Golden in Presque Isle. He says that distant signals are no substitute for critically important local news, weather and emergency information, the "first informer" role broadcasters lay claim to as part of their public service mission.

Golden said he wants committee leadership to take into account what he says is the license's disincentive for DirecTV to deliver local programming in Presque Isle. 

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.