Senate Commerce Eyeing Sept. 17 For STELA Markup

According to sources, industry players from both sides of the retrans debate will be getting a briefing Friday on a markup of the Senate Commerce Committee version of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act and what may or may not be in it. Those same sources say the tentative markup date is Sept. 17.

Among the things that could be in it are the Local Choice proposal and preventing broadcasters from blocking access to online content during retrans blackouts. If so, that would make the bill unpalatable to Republicans in control of the House.

With Congress moving into re-election mode, that could threaten its ability to get a passable bill out the door by the end of the year.

The last time STELA was renewed in 2009—actually not until 2010—Congress was unable to agree on a bill, the license expired—it sunsets every five years unless renewed—and legislators had to ask copyright holders to pretend the license was still in effect on the promise that it would be made so retroactively when the bill eventually passed, which it did in the spring.

Broadcasters are hoping the "Local Choice" retrans remake proposal will be scrapped in the interests of getting a clean bill that can pass by Dec. 31, which is the deadline for reauthorization of the license that allows satellite operators to deliver distant network-affiliated TV station signals to markets without a viewable version of their own.

Many cable operators have been pushing the Local Choice proposal, which would essentially get rid of the retransmission consent regime by turning TV station signals into an a la carte choice that MVPD subs could pay for or not. Cable operators would not have to negotiate with broadcasters for carriage, instead acting as a financial middleman for negotiations between broadcasters and viewers.

In July, the House Judiciary Committee approved a "clean" Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 5036), or STARA.

A STELA reauthorization bill containing retrans reform passed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and a "clean" version has been introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, so there is still work to do in reconciling those, getting the Senate Commerce Committee's input, and getting a bill through both Houses, particularly as legislators prepare for upcoming elections.

The House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees all have jurisdiction given that the bill deals with both communications and copyright.

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.