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Rep. Walden Plans to Circulate STELA Draft by First Quarter 2014

House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) wants to circulate by the first quarter of next year a draft of the STELA satellite distant-signal compulsory-license reauthorization bill, which also includes attendant video distribution licenses up for discussion if not renewal.

That is according to Walden's prepared opening remarks for the subcommittee's Sept. 11 hearing on video regulation.

The satellite distant-signal license expires at the end of 2014 and the last time Congress reauthorized it, the process took well over a year and extended past the Dec. 31, 2009, deadline.

"This early stage of the process is a good time for us to take a larger look at the video marketplace," according to Walden. "It takes time and process to develop good policy and even more to build consensus. Yet, the deadline for reauthorizing STELA looms large, and we must continue to make progress. With that in mind, I expect to circulate a discussion draft on these issues no later than the first quarter of next year. I am looking forward to continuing to engage with my colleagues and the many industries represented here today on these important issues."

Walden's testimony indicates that there is need for overarching telecom reg reform. He notes, "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is old enough to get its driver’s license, the Cable Act [of 1992] is old enough to drink alcohol legally, and the Communications Act of 1934 has long been eligible for Social Security."

Cable operators are looking for retrans reform, while broadcasters argue the process is working fine. Broadcasters would like some media-ownership regulation reform, while politicians on both sides of the aisle argue the FCC's regulatory silos are an anachronism in a world of converging digital media.

Walden seems ready to tackle the big issues that Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), ranking member of the the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, said Tuesday should be included in debate about STELA reauthorization. Judiciary and Communications subcommittee parent Energy & Commerce share jurisdiction over STELA.

"Given [the] technological changes and the multitude of options available to American consumers, our laws should reflect the operation of the free market in a competitive environment," according to Walden's opening statement. "Instead, we have a satellite law that finds its origins in ensuring access to content for a fledgling industry, a cable law that was passed when cable controlled over 90 percent of the video market, and broadcast rules that ignore the rise of alternatives to over-the-air reception. We can and should be engaged in a lively discussion of how to unshackle the free market and remove the government from the business of manipulating the video marketplace."

But too much Republican-backed "unshackling" could run into opposition from House Democrats and the Democratically controlled Senate.

John Eggerton
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.