SHVRA Passes Convincingly in House

The House version of the satellite reauthorization bill (HR
3750, the Satellite Home Viewer Reauthorization Act) passed convincingly
Thursday (394 to 11).

The bill combines the House Commerce and Judiciary versions
and reauthorizes the satellite compulsory license for carriage of distant
network affiliate TV station signals for another five years, a license that
expires at the end of the year unless a new bill, or a stopgap extension, is
passed. It also deals with some cable carriage and various copyright issues, including
an audit process for copyright owners so they can make sure they get the
royalties they are entitled to, stiffer penalties for infringement and
clarification that their

royalties apply to digital multicast streams carried by

Highlights of the communications side of the bill--Commerce
and Judiciary split jurisdiction--include fixing the "phantom signal"
problem in which cable operators were paying for signals their customers didn't
receive and allowing DISH network back into the distant-signal business in
exchange for delivering local station signals (local-into-local) to the remaining
28 small markets that lack them.

DISH has been prevented by a court order from delivering
distant signals after the court concluded it had problems determining who was
eligible to receive them. The bill enhances penalties for any future problems
and requires a GAO audit of DISH.

But it also has an amendment that would require DISH to deliver high-definition
noncommercial station signals on an advanced timetable--by 2011 instead of the
FCC's current 2013, atimetable DISH has said it can't meet.

The local-into-local provision in the bill is essentially a legislative stamp
on a deal struck between broadcasters and satellite companies, and there is a
provision in that deal that additional carriage burdens might invalidate.

Legislators suggested that the amendment would not be a
poison pill to the local-into-local deal, suggesting DISH might be close to its
own deal with noncommercial stations that would moot the amendment or that even
if there was no deal, DISH would be able to provide both noncommercial HD
signals and local stations on the government's timetable.

"DISH Network
remains concerned about the HD carriage mandate for PBS stations included in
the bill, and the substantial additional penalties and burdensome audit
requirements recently added to the bill," the company said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with House and Senate committees to make the
changes necessary to ensure that legislation is enacted this year that serves
the needs of the American public and continues to provide the framework for a
vibrant satellite industry to compete with cable and telcos."

Association of Public Service Television, which represents noncommercial
stations, praised passage of the bill and the HD carriage amendment, but also
said it was still working on a negotiated solution.

 "APTS is
pleased with the bi-partisan action taken by the House and with the leadership
of Chairmen Conyers, Waxman and Boucher, and Ranking Members Smith, Barton and
Stearns," said APTS President Larry Sidman in a statement. "This legislation
reflects a reasoned approach to the satellite carriage needs of public
television stations across the country.... While this bill moves forward
through the legislative process, APTS continues to negotiate with DISH Network
to reach a private carriage agreement."

The bill must now either be reconciled with two different
Senate versions, or the Senate could vote to approve the House version. Either
way, something has to happen or the satellite license to carry distant TV
network signals expires at year's end.

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.