A Senate GOP Leader Seeks STELAR Sunset


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Judiciary Chairman of the U.S. Senate has jumped into the fray over the pending expiration of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act — contentious legislation allowing AT&T-owned DirecTV to continue importing Los Angeles or New York-based network stations into the farthest reaches of the tiniest TV markets — by signaling his opposition to the Act’s reauthorization.

But, he’s seeking its end by proposing a market alternative.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham on Friday (11/1) sent letters to the Government Relations heads of ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC containing identical language addressing STELAR. In the letter, also sent to the Government Relations leaders at Dish and AT&T, he noted that a 2011 Copyright Office study urged the end of compulsory video licenses in Title 17.

In 2014, Congress agreed; STELAR extended the “Section 119” compulsory license until Dec. 31, 2019.

Graham wants it to expire as Congress intended. But, he is also seeking assurances that during a transition “to a free market their favorite news and prime-time shows will continue to be available to them on the current satellite provider.”

This opens a new chapter in the struggle to ensure all DBS subscribers get network programming, by going to the networks themselves — rather than local broadcasters AT&T says need to increase translators, so it can get an over-the-air signal to offer across all of the DMAs where out-of-market stations are used to deliver network TV programming.

By Nov. 12, each network government relations head is asked to provide Graham answers to a series of questions centered around the assumption that Congress does not need to extend Section 119 any further.

Each network received similarly worded queries from Graham as ABC did, below:

  • Is ABC willing to provide a one-year license to satellite providers for ABC owned shows, provided you receive market-by-market usage data from each satellite provider, including the total usage by long distance truckers and recreational vehicle owners?
  • Subject to the usual terms and conditions that apply to carriage contracts, will the rate
    ABC charges for your shows be comparable to the 2018 rate set by the Copyright
    Royalty Board for the compulsory Section 119 license?
  • Will ABC commit to supporting your affiliates as they negotiate with satellite providers during this one-year transition period on a carriage agreement for full local-into-local on both satellite providers that would begin no later than January 1, 2021?
  • For areas without local affiliates, will ABC commit to negotiating with both satellite providers during this one-year transition period on a carriage agreement that would begin no later than January 1, 2021?
  • Will ABC commit to regularly informing my Committee of your ongoing efforts to reach such carriage agreements?

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith responded to the letters by thanking Graham for his leadership “and recognition that STELAR’s expiring distant signal license is outlawed and that the U.S. Copyright Office has recommended that it not be renewed.”

Smith added that STELAR has long outlived its usefulness, while also noting that “this is a business decision that AT&T is making to underserve these viewers through continued use of STELAR’s subsidy.”

DirecTV promised in 2003 to carry all local TV stations in every DMA.

In 12 markets, however, the closest local TV stations are not available, with New York or L.A.-based signals offered to viewers:

1. Alpena, Michigan
2. Bowling Green, Kentucky
3. Casper-Riverton, Wyoming
4. Cheyenne, Wyoming/Scottsbluff, Nebraska
5. Grand Junction, Colorado
6. Helena, Montana
7. North Platte, Nebraska
8. Ottumwa, Iowa/Kirksville, Missouri
9. Presque Isle, Maine
10. San Angelo, Texas
11. Victoria, Texas
12. Glendive, Montana

The U.S. Copyright Office previously submitted a letter to the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee recommending that the license allowing AT&T/DirecTV and DISH to import distant broadcast TV network programming into “neglected markets” be allowed to expire. Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple earlier this year testified before the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property recommending the license’s expiration.

Other Members of Congress who have previously submitting letters supporting the expiration of STELAR include:

  • Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX) – House Energy & Commerce Committee, House Judiciary Committee
  • Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME-2)
  • Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA-2)
  • Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME) and Rand Paul (R-KY)