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STELA, Aereo Keeping D.C. Video Watchers Busy

WASHINGTON — This week will be a busy one for video policy wonks here, with Congress signaling it is getting down to business on renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) and the Supreme Court preparing to hear the Aereo case.

The House Communications Subcommittee has put the pedal to the metal; it is planning to vote on a draft STELA bill at a March 25 markup. In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee is holding a March 26 hearing on the bill; it has already sought out plenty of comment on a laundry list of possible additions.

Broadcasters and cable operators are divided over STELA on the subject of — what else? — retransmission consent.

The more video-reform efforts are added to the bill, the less likely it is that a bill would pass in time tomeet the Dec. 31 deadline. STELA renewals often drag on, and initial elements are pared away in the effort to get a must-pass bill that will actually become law.

But some House draft provisions, including the limitations on coordinated retransmission- consent negotiations, could survive this time around because they are supported by Democrats and some Republicans. And broadcasters aren’t putting up a fight after the provision most onerous to them, nixing the must-buy mandate for TV stations, was removed.

The fact that four committees also have to get their two cents in — Commerce and Judiciary in both the Senate and House — adds impetus for Congress to get moving on renewal.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court will be receiving Aereo’s opening legal brief March 26 defending its online, over-the air TV delivery service. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case, which one way or the other will affect the future direction of online video.

If Aereo wins, that could become the model for cable operators to avoid paying retrans, though some argue it could also be a way to avoid paying for delivering cable networks online as well.

TAKEAWAY

Congress gets moving in earnest on STELA this week, as the Supreme Court hears from Aereo.

STELA SIDE-BY-SIDE

The House Communications Subcommittee plans to mark up the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act draft bill on March 25, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill March 26, but broadcasters and cable operators have already voted informally on what they think STELA should and shouldn’t do.

Their preferences became clear last week in their responses to the Senate Commerce Committee on what the bill should include.

Here, with a little editorial license in the framing of some answers, is a cheat sheet based on some of the writt en responses from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The distance between most of the two groups’ answers reflects their battle over video marketplace regulations.