Sen. Orrin Hatch warned broadcasters Tuesday that while he
thinks a "clean" reauthorization of the Satellite Television
Extension and Localism Act (STELA) would be best, he would not be surprised if
there were some expansions.
That came in a speech to a National Association of
Broadcasters audience at its annual State Leadership conference (a "press
the D.C. flesh and the issues" opportunity for some 500 local broadcasters).
Hatch was referring to the reauthorization of the compulsory
license allowing satellite operators to import distant TV station signals.
While broadcasters are all for a "clean" reauthorization if the
license is not allowed to sunset, cable operators wouldn't mind expanding the
license to include, for example, allowing for continued carriage during retrans
impasses, while satellite operators would like to be able to import less-than-distant
signals in markets that straddle states.
Citing House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg
Walden's scheduling of a hearing last month on STELA, which does not expire
until the end of 2014, Leahy called Walden a glutton for punishment. But if
past is prologue, the process could be a lengthy one.
Last time around, a bill did not pass until months after the
deadline had passed and even an extension had expired, prompting members of
Congress to contact content rights-holders and ask them to proceed as though
the compulsory license were still in effect.
Hatch, a close friend to former senator, fellow Mormon, and
NAB president Gordon Smith, praised both Smith repeatedly, saying on at least
three occasions that the group was lucky to have him. He also praised the
industry for the jobs it created and the billions it contributed to the
economy. He also praised broadcasters' election coverage and emergency
Hatch said he strongly supported a "truly
voluntary" spectrum incentive auction, pointing out that there were issues
with translators in his state -- to relay broadcast signals over distances or
tough terrain -- that many broadcasters there relied on and which could be
adversely affected by post-auction repacking. He said he understood the need
for efficiency, but not at the risk of interfering with TV station signals
(that drew a "hear, hear" from one audience member).
The system of local broadcasters is critical to
the country, he told his audience. He said Congress should pay attention and
not foul up that system, then added wryly: "If anyone can [foul it up],
it's the Congress of the United States."
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