State Broadcasters Back Focused STELA

State broadcaster associations have added their voice to that of the National Association of Broadcasters, which asked the Senate Commerce Committee not to make the renewal of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act into a referendum on retrans or a vehicle for a communications law overhaul.

In a letter to the committee in response to its request for input on what should or should not be in the bill, the National Alliance of state Broadcasters said that they were in agreement that renewing the distant signal license, as the law does, was not necessary, but that if Congress did renew it, it do so without "upsetting the current marketplace."

"We encourage you to resist efforts from pay-TV entities looking to upset the free market negotiations that help provide the important programming our stations offer," they wrote.

The Committee sought input as it prepares a hearing on STELA and what should be in the legislation, which must pass by Dec. 31 or satellite operator's blanket license to deliver distant network-affiliated TV station signals will sunset.

NAB is OK with that sunset -- it calls the license a market-distorting mechanism that has outlived its usefulness -- but spent most of its 13 pages on arguing for what should not be in a "clean" renewal. Satellite operators have asked the committee to make multiple retrans changes as part of STELA, but NAB says such efforts would only "prolong, complicate and threaten" the reauthorization process.

The NAB advised not to modify designated market areas (DMAs) or change the definition of unserved households.

"Nothing in this bill should increase the number of viewers who are unable to watch a local broadcast signal," said NAB, meaning that no definitional change should boost that number.

STELA is reauthorized every five years. The last time around, the bill was a magnate for various issues that helped push reauthorization months past the deadline, leading to Senate leaders having to ask copyright holders to treat satellite operators as though the license had been renewed and Congress would make it retroactive when the bill finally passed.

NAB argued for maintaining rate regulation on cable absent an FCC finding of effective competition, using its answer to take a shot at prices.

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.