According to various sources, Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) are expected to pull the Local Choice provision from the satellite compulsory license reauthorization bill being marked up in the Senate Commerce Committee.
One cable industry source described it as a big idea, but also a big ask, and said there was not enough time on the clock to get the word out about the solutions it offered — to blackouts and the cost of cable.
The Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA) is the Senate Commerce Committee version of a satellite bill that must pass by the end of the year or the license sunsets. Rockefeller and Thune, chair and ranking member of the committee, respectively, had proposed Local Choice to address concerns about blackouts and cable pricing. The provision would have required broadcasters to sell their signals directly to consumers, who could choose not to take them. The FCC would be a facilitator of that direct negotiation and could not mark up the price. But it would also not be required to carry TV station signals subs didn't pay for.
But the source pointed out the bill still contains a number of retrans-related provisions that would make a final bill consumer-friendly.
Those include barring joint retransmission consent negotiations by independently owned TV stations, and not just in the same market; not allowing retrans agreements to limit the ability of cable or satellite ops to carry significantly viewed out-of-market stations; in the case of retrans blackouts, allows the FCC to seek info from MVPDs and broadcasters about whether they committed per se violations of good faith negotiations; and directs the FCC to conduct a rulemaking on whether certain practices, like blocking online video content, are a violation of good faith and how best to update the totality of circumstances test to encourage both broadcasters and MVPDs to reach a retrans agreement.
A House bill has already passed with the no-joint negotiations provision and a couple of other retrans-related elements. But broadcasters can live with that one. They made it clear they could not live with Local Choice, which they said would threaten their business model.
A committee spokesperson suggested Local Choice could return, but that the priority was to pass the satellite bill.
“During the last month, Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune have successfully begun a discussion on Local Choice, which would empower TV viewers, maintain our policy of broadcast localism, and ensure TV stations get fairly compensated for the retransmission of their signals,” said a committee spokesperson. “Because it is a big and bold idea, Local Choice deserves more discussion and a full consideration by policymakers, and the Committee may not have time to include it as part of STAVRA. Rockefeller and Thune are focused on passing STAVRA next week, and continuing to work with their colleagues on Local Choice.”
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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.