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STELAR Passage Gets Stellar Reception

The House's bipartisan passage of the STELAR Act satellite bill got plenty of stakeholder praise Tuesday after it passed on voice vote in a fast track move that signaled it was a noncontroversial item.

Cable operators, who were able to secure retrans and set-top reforms, applauded House leaders for the bipartisan offering.

"The legislation extends expiring provisions related to retransmission of broadcast TV signals and accomplishes modest reforms of our video laws that will yield significant consumer benefits," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell. 

“By eliminating the FCC's Integration Ban, the legislation removes an unnecessary technology mandate that imposes higher costs and energy use on cable customers who lease set-top boxes while offering no benefits. The legislation also appropriately protects consumers from anticompetitive harm by preventing separately owned broadcast stations in local markets from jointly coordinating or participating in negotiations for retransmission consent. 

The American Television Alliance, whose satellite and cable TV members have been pushing for retrans reform, added their hand to the clap-fest.

"We applaud the leadership and members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for their efforts to craft legislation that will provide some meaningful reforms for consumers," ATVA said. "The STELAR bill is an improvement on current law and will ensure that at least 1.5 million Americans don’t lose access to broadcast TV signals." The bill renews the distant signal license that allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals into local markets without a viewable version of their own.

The bill's prohibition on coordinated retransmission consent negotiations among non-commonly owned TV stations was a plus, but hardly the last word on retrans reforms in ATVA's view.

"The bill’s prohibition of joint retransmission consent negotiations is a step in the right direction to help curb skyrocketing retrans fees and TV blackouts," ATVA said. "We further encourage the Committee to continue to look for solutions to the other problems that result from our outdated retransmission consent regime."

Several legislators during floor speeches on the bill also signaled that the video marketplace was broken and needed fixing.

USTelecom President Walter McCormick went the commendation route, but suggested the Senate bill should do more.

“We commend the House for taking this pro-consumer action to increase competition in the video marketplace and look forward to working with the Senate on further improvements needed to update our nation’s video policy.”