Subcommittee passes STELA markup

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EnergyThe Communications and Technology Subcommittee, a House Committee on Energy and Commerce, reconvened for markup on and subsequent passage of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to extend expiring provisions relating to the retransmission signals of television broadcast stations, and for other purposes. It now goes to the full Committee.


Statement of Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden:

At this time, we resume the mark-up of the discussion draft to reauthorize the law that ensures that 1.5 million subscribers in hard-to-reach areas continue to receive broadcast content via their chosen satellite provider. (Satellite TV providers have more than 34 million customers nationwide.) This truly is “prime time” legislation, and we’re ready to move forward.

This draft legislation represents more than a year of work, discussions, hearings and negotiations—both among the affected industries and among ourselves on both sides of the aisle, and within our respective parties.

It proposes reasonable reforms–that can become law–to the current state of the video market –sensible, modern-day, deregulatory changes – that are supported by the major competitors in the marketplace:  broadcasters, major cable operators, and satellite operators. Getting all three of these entities on the same page was no easy task–something that I know my colleagues understand. Any major changes put at risk our ability to move forward in a positive way to reauthorize this important service.

My Democratic colleagues, however, have expressed some concerns and we have worked to find common ground that would allow us to support a bipartisan bill within the framework of the narrow reforms we have laid out. We still have some work to do, but we are encouraged by the compromises we have reached so far.”

Read more here.

Supplemental Statement of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton:

“I fully support this discussion draft. More than 1.5 million satellite television subscribers will lose access to the broadcast programming they enjoy today if we do not reauthorize STELA. We can’t afford to fail them. With this in mind, I am pleased to say that both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to advance this discussion draft to the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bipartisan amendment that will be offered today makes the kind of small changes that can make a world of difference. The changes to the CableCARD integration ban provisions will repeal the costly and unnecessary integration ban, and will preserve the FCC’s ability to adapt to changing technology. I’d like to thank the champion of this issue, Bob Latta, for his hard work and insight. It’s this kind of effort that we hope to bring to the rest of the Communications Act in our CommActUpdate – recognition of what needs to stay and what needs to be tossed out.”

Read more here.

Anna Eshoo

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) offered two amendments to the STELA reauthorization bill:

•           Eshoo Amendment 1 (offer & withdraw): Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station’s owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in “good faith.”

The details:

AMENDMENT TO DISCUSSION DRAFT OFFERED BY MS. ESHOO OF CALIFORNIA

Page 4, after line 8, insert the following (and redesignate subsequent provisions accordingly):

SEC. 5. RULEMAKING ON BLOCKING OF ONLINE CONTENT DURING NEGOTIATIONS.

Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall complete a rule making proceeding to determine whether, during retransmission consent negotiations or after the parties to such negotiations reach an impasse resulting in the expiration of an existing retransmission consent agreement, the blocking of online content owned by or affiliated with a television broadcast station (or a person who owns or controls, is owned or controlled by, or is under common ownership or control with such station) constitutes a failure to negotiate in good faith under section 325(b)(3)(C)(ii) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C.”

•           Walden-Eshoo Amendment 2: Brackets Section 4, which continues to be an area of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. It also includes a compromise on Section 6 (set-top box language). Unlike the original language, it does not restrict the FCC from adopting an integration ban as part of a successor solution to CableCARD.
The details:
AMENDMENT TO DISCUSSION DRAFT OFFERED

Strike section 4 (relating to attribution resulting from certain television broadcast station agreements) and insert the following:

SEC. 4. NO ATTRIBUTION RESULTING FROM CERTAIN TELEVISION BROADCAST STATION AGREEMENTS PENDING REVIEW.

The Commission may not modify its rules to treat any shared service agreement, local news service agreement, local marketing agreement, or joint sales agreement (as such terms are discussed by the Commission at paragraphs 195 and 196 of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted on December 22, 2011 (FCC 11–186)), or any similar agreement between television broadcast stations in the same local market, as resulting in the attribution of a cognizable interest in, or ownership, operation, or control of, a television broadcast station for purposes of the Commission’s local television multiple ownership rule (47 CFR 73.3555(b)) until the Commission issues a single order that addresses all of the Commission’s media ownership rules that are required to be reviewed quadrennially under section 202(h) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996; and closes the proceeding relating to the 2010 quadrennial review under such section.

Strike section 6 (relating to repeal of integration ban) and insert the following:

SEC.6 .REPEAL OF INTEGRATION BAN. (a) NO FORCE OR EFFECT.—The second sentence of section 76.1204(a)(1) of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(b) REMOVAL FROM RULES.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall complete all actions necessary to remove the sentence described in subsection (a) from its rules.

In the end, it passed and the subcommittee adopted the bipartisan amendment offered by Walden and Eshoo by voice vote. The subcommittee also approved the draft bill by voice vote.
“This draft legislation represents more than a year of work, discussions, hearings, and negotiations – both among the affected industries and among ourselves on both sides of the aisle, and within our respective parties,” said Walden. “We still have some work to do, but we are encouraged by the compromises we have reached so far. Our staffs will continue to work toward bipartisan agreement in anticipation of markup by the full committee.”
Full committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) added: “Today’s subcommittee vote is an important milestone as we work to reauthorize the nation’s satellite television law. Our bipartisan agreement on this must-pass bill puts us on a path toward bringing certainty for the more than 1.5 million Americans who are in jeopardy of losing access to major programming at the end of the year.”

American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew Polka issued a statement regarding passage of the STELA by the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology:

“Both the Federal Communications Commission’s Chairman and the Department of Justice’s Chief of the Antitrust Division – representing the nation’s expert agencies – have both recognized that consumers and competition are harmed when separately owned, same-market broadcasters collude in the sale of retransmission consent to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), including independent cable operators who are ACA members.

“Available evidence shows that such collusion raises retransmission rates by at least 18% and that these unjustly gained higher rates are passed along to consumers in the form of higher bills.  Not surprisingly, ACA members and the millions of customers they serve are quite distressed with Section 3 of the discussion draft passed today in that it provides broadcasters with a statutory right to engage in this highly dubious practice.

“We appreciate that Energy & Commerce Committee Democrats, especially Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, highlighted this section of the bill as one that needs to be changed before passage by the full committee. The commitment of the Subcommittee’s top Republican, Chairman Greg Walden, to try to pass a bipartisan bill was appreciated.

“For consumers’ sake, we hope Congress realizes that collusion under any circumstances is the wrong policy for our nation. ACA stands ready to work with the Committee to find a solution that protects consumers and establishes a more competitive marketplace.”

Said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton: “From the outset, NAB has supported passage of a STELA bill that remains free of amendments that are designed to benefit behemoth pay TV companies at the expense of local broadcasters and our tens of millions of viewers. We believe the bill passed today strikes that balance.”

Robert C. Kenny, Director of Public Affairs, TVfreedom.org issued the following statement regarding passage of STELA:  “We are pleased that members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology adopted a bi-partisan STELA bill. TVfreedom will remain vigilant in its efforts throughout this legislative process to ensure that consumers continue to have access to broadcast TV on the basic-lifeline-cable-tier and the valuable local news, emergency information, and severe weather warnings that are provided to TV viewers across America every day.”

Larry Patrick's Photograph 1
Larry Patrick

RBR-TVBR observation: Good news from Eshoo: The Commission should not put the JSA cart before the media ownership rules horse. Larry Patrick, Managing Partner, Patrick Communications, tells RBR-TVBR: “This is a very positive step for broadcasters.  It would require the horse (the ownership rules review) before the cart (the pending threat of changed JSA rules by the FCC).  An orderly review process that was designed by Congress but was ignored in 2010 by the FCC. Now, a full and robust debate on the changing media landscape and the ownership rules will occur before a “patch” designed to end JSAs is applied. [This] still has a ways to go and may well run into opposition on this amendment from the Democratic majority in the Senate.  It is a logical and best step in dealing with things.  I would think that NAB did a good job pushing for this.”


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.