Senate Version of Satellite Bill Hits Hill

A new Senate version of the satellite reauthorization bill
that has been appended to a must-pass jobs
is circulating Capitol Hill. While a vote on the jobs bill-actually
now two bills-was on hold due to the Washington blizzard, the satellite bill
will need to get a congressional thumbs-up in the next two weeks, which is
cutting it close since the Senate is supposed to be in recess all next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said
Thursday (Feb. 11) that the jobs bill had been pared back to four major
items-Build America Bonds, the highway bill, small business tax program, and a
job-creation portion-with the rest of the items, currently including the
satellite reauthorization, to be dealt with after next week's recess. Reid said
there would be no votes this week given the number of staffers who couldn't get
to work because of the snow.

House Communications & Internet Chairman Rick Boucher
(D-Va.) said two weeks ago that there was agreement on the bill's language and
he expected it to be able to pass soon. It has to be renewed before March 1.
The license originally expired Dec. 31, but was extended for 60 days after
Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee raised some objections, according
to a source familiar with the bill's progress, or lack of it.

The bill renews satellite operators' blanket license to
import distant network-affiliated TV stations to viewers in markets where they
can't receive a viewable local version. It also creates an incentive for
DISH to deliver local-into-local service, establishes a new timetable for the
delivery of high-definition signals of noncommercial stations, a new method for
determining who is eligible to receive the signals, and mandates a series of
reports on, among other things, whether the blanket license should be phased

The Senate language officially renames the bill from the
Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act to the Senate-coined
Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA).

The bill reflects the local-into-local deal struck between
broadcasters and DISH, though it does not identify DISH by name. DISH agreed to
provide local signals to the two-and-a-half dozen or so smaller markets without
a full complement of affiliates. In return, it gets to re-enter the distant
network-signal business, which it has had to delegate to a third-party
distributor per a court ruling that it was not accurately identifying who
qualified for distant signals.

DISH will get to deliver distant signals to so-called short
markets-ones that lack one of the Big Four affiliates.

The bill will not allow the importation of a distant signal
if a local version is being delivered via a digital multicast signal. For
example, ABC struck deals with stations in some markets without a viewable
local ABC affiliate to program one of their multicast channels with ABC network

Such multicast affiliate signals will be insulated from
importation of similar distant signals as of July 1, 2010, if they were in
place by Dec. 31, 2009. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, all other multicast affiliates
will qualify as delivering a viewable signal to viewers and thus preclude
importation of a similar affiliate.

The bill also directs the FCC to report to Congress within a
year on the number of viewers in each market who receive out-of-state
stations  and what possible alternatives
there might be to Nielsen DMA markets that would result in more in-state

STELA requires a report within a year on the impact of
phasing out the statutory licensing system. 

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.