STELA Discussion Draft Takes Aim At Making JSAs Attributable

House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden has relased an intitial Republican discussion draft of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) and it would prevent the FCC from making JSA's, SSA's or an other sharing agreement attributable until the FCC had addressed all the media ownership rules in a 2010 and 2014 qudrennial review.

That would undercut FCC chair Tom Wheeler's just-announced plan to make TV JSAs of over 15% attributable as of the end of this month and only start the process of completing the combined 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews.

As expected, the draft, which is only eight pages, includes:

• "Limitations on joint retransmission consent negotiations in conjunction with limitations on FCC action on broadcaster shared services arrangements;
• "The elimination of the “sweeps” week prohibition on signal changes; and
• The elimination of the set-top box integration ban."

The Republicans and Wheeler are at least on he same page when it comes coordinated retrans. In fact, Wheeler could beat Congress to the punch with his just-announced proposal to prohibit coordinated retrans among any two separately owned stations among the top four in a market. He plans a vote on that by the end of the month.

Also as expected, the draft does not include a provision that would have struck the must-buy provision that requires cable ops to put TV stations, including retrans stations, on the lowest tier. There had already been discussion of that provision at a meeting among Republican committee members, after which it was dropped. That was also after pushback from broadcasters.

Rep. Walden had signaled he would have a draft by the end of the month, but he has hit the mark early. A hearing on STELA, and now on that draft, is scheduled for March 12.

“This draft was developed to ensure continued local access for satellite television consumers while addressing a number of discrete issues raised over the course of our year-long review of this law and its benefits to consumers,” Walden said in a statement. “Our video marketplace demands rules that reflect the modern communications marketplace, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to address those issues in our work to update the Communications Act. As we consider those larger issues, however, we must not lose sight of the looming year-end deadline for action on STELA and the 1.5 million households whose satellite television service would suffer if we fail to act."

He also said he thought the bill could be done before the end of the year, which it has to be or the law sunsets.

Walden has said he wanted to keep the bill as free as possible from retrans debates that might hold it up. But he has never said other issues would not be on the table, and since STELA also reauthorizes the FCC's authority to mandate good faith retrans negotiations, keeping it retrans-free, rather than "lite" was likely not an option.

But this is just the first inning, with a lot of debate, and lots of cooks in the broth since the Commerce and Judiciary committees in both the House and Senate oversee elements of STELA.

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.