WASHINGTON — According to industry sources, the Senate plans to let the House take the lead this time around on legislation renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act — or not renewing it, as the case may be.
If so, that bill would most likely not deal with retransmission-consent rules or other contentious issues that could tie it up.
Broadcasters want a clean reauthorization of the bill if the alternative is a referendum on retransmission consent, while cable operators and other multichannel-video providers generally look at STELA as a vehicle for what they say is that needed reform.
CHANGE OF VENUE
A House Energy & Commerce Committee source confirmed on background that the plan is for the House to do the initial heavy lifting.
The Senate has historically taken the lead, though one industry source argued that the House Judiciary Committee was responsible for one of the biggest changes last time around, allowing satellite-TV provider Dish Network to get back into the distant-signal business in exchange for delivering local-TV station signals to every market.
The House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees and their Senate counterparts have jurisdiction over the law, which principally grants satellite operators a blanket license to deliver distant network-affiliated TV station signals to subscribers who can’t get a viewable signal from their in-market affiliate.
That includes serving markets without a full complement of affiliated stations, as well as areas of a market that satellite spot beams don’t reach. Also included are so-called orphan counties that may lack access to stations carrying nearby sports teams or news or politics more relevant to those viewers.
The law also gives the FCC authority to enforce goodfaith negotiations in retransmission disputes. Without renewal, the law expires at the end of 2014.
House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has been the most active Hill voice on STELA and had signaled he was looking at working on a House draft bill starting in the first quarter.
If past is prologue, Congress will need plenty of time to debate how to renew it.
Last time around, STELA was a magnate for contentious debate that pushed its renewal months past the Dec. 31, 2009, deadline and forced the Senate to ask distributors to treat satellite operators as though they still had a compulsory license and trust Congress to make the license retroactive when it finally did agree on a renewal.
The Copyright Office has recommended eliminating the blanket license in favor of marketplace negotiations. But the likelihood is a fairly narrow STELA reauthorization, at least if Walden gets his way, though perhaps not for the full, five-year term.
That scenario would defer fights over retransmission and orphan counties to the multiyear Communications Act rewrite teed up by Walden and House Energy & Commerce Commission chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
It’s unclear whether or not Energy & Commerce ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) will agree to punt the retransmission battle, given that she has introduced a retransmission-reform bill to try to eliminate blackouts.
Over on the Senate side, look for Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to hold a hearing on a video reform bill he introduced last fall.
Any standalone bill is a long shot, but it was described as a way for the chairman to “start a conversation about the best way to nurture new, innovative online services” so they can become a true competitors to cable.
That Senate conversation may well extend into its STELA review. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) also signaled last week he thought the Senate should “revisit the laws governing subscription television services.”
The House will take the lead in the reauthorization of the bill authorizing satellite-TV providers to carry local broadcasters, sources said.
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