STELAR Is Now the Law

With the stroke of a pen, the relatively drama-free STELAR Act (HR 5728) became law Thursday (Dec. 4) after President Obama signed the bill, which reauthorizes the satellite compulsory distant signal license for another five years, and makes some retransmission consent-related changes, as well as sunsetting the FCC's ban on integrated set-tops after a year.

It also renews the FCC's authority to enforce good faith retransmission-consent negotiations, with a mandate to the FCC to study the definition of good faith, as well as extending the commission's prohibition on coordinated retrans negotiations among noncommonly owned TV stations in a market from the top four to all stations.

The President's John Hancock was applauded by House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who helped motorman the ultimately birpartisan bill, which does the following through the House.

“Hearing that our bipartisan work is now law is stellar news. With a stroke of the president’s pen today, over a million satellite subscribers will continue receiving their favorite broadcast content uninterrupted,” said Upton in a statement. “Bipartisan legislating has been the cornerstone of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and I look forward to continuing that tradition as we work toward a #CommActUpdate.” That is a reference to the planned rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act Upton and Walden launched in the current Congress.

“It was important that Congress came together and got its work done on time," said Walden. "After nearly a year-long process, I am proud to say that the bipartisan STELA Reauthorization Act signed by President Obama today is a job well done. This law ensures continuity of service for rural satellite subscribers and helps bring the laws governing our video marketplace onto the same playing field. While there is still plenty of work ahead as we bring our communications laws into the 21st century, this is an important milestone. Consumers are well served by this legislation, and I am ready to continue our work on these important issues next Congress.”

Senate passage was assured after chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) signaled various issues would get separate vetting--cable rates, set-top box competition, issues he also had concerns with--but made it clear a bill that could actually pass by the end of the year needed to be produced. Rockefeller is retiring at the end of this term, so the bipartisan bill is a also a victory for the outgoing Senate Commerce Committee chairman.

The license expires every five years, but last time around contentious fights over various add-ons pushed passage beyond the expiration date of Dec. 31, 2009 and deep into the following year, where legislators had to ask content owners to act as if the license had passed and it would be made retroactive, which it was.

“CenturyLink applauds Congress and the President for reauthorizing legislation that will increase investment, innovation, competition and consumer choice in the pay-TV market,” said vice president for federal legislative affairs David Bartlett. “STELAR goes a long way toward making retransmission consent negotiations more fair and balanced, and creates a more competitive pay-TV market for providers and consumers alike, but more video reform is needed.”

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.