Are House Democrats Set To Sunset ‘STELAR’?


PHOENIX — The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, or “STELAR,” has attracted much attention from legislators on both sides of Capitol Hill in recent weeks.

Congressional debate over the law’s expiration led the NAB in late April to respond to what it calls “non-answers” from the nation’s two direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers, DirecTV, owned by AT&T, and DISH Network.

This followed the late March action by Maine’s two Senators to formally express their concern about the reauthorization of STELAR, and its distant signal provisions.

Now, two key Democrats on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee are ready to take on the future of STELAR.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) announced Tuesday that the Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday (6/4) with the title, “STELAR Review: Protecting Consumers in an Evolving Media Marketplace.”

The legislative session, which begins at 10:30am at Rayburn 2322, will most certainly put the future of STELAR in question — and put both DirecTV and DISH on notice that the continued distribution of New York or Los Angeles-based network stations in rural areas where technology now makes the closest “local” affiliate distributable to customers will not stand.

Commenting on the hearing, Pallone and Doyle made it clear that they’re looking out for consumers. Translation: STELAR should likely given its sunset, since it is not to their benefit.

“Too often the conversation in Washington surrounding satellite reauthorization has focused on what is good for companies,” the House Members say. “As Congress revisits this issue, we will look at how consumers are affected and what can be done to improve their choices and viewing experience. We look forward to examining these important topics at the hearing next week and ensuring that consumers are put first in the STELAR debate.”

Getting rid of STELAR isn’t so simple. But, it has its share of supporters to back the NAB, including the Copyright Alliance.

The “unified voice of the copyright community” in late March wrote to both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to express their opposition to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR).

The Copyright Alliance said “any effort to reauthorize the Copyright Act’s section 119 compulsory license for satellite retransmission of broadcast distant signals” is opposed to by the self-described “non-profit, non-partisan public interest and educational organization representing the copyright interests of over 1.8 million individual creators and over 13,000 organizations in the United States.”

On March 15, this issue was brought directly to A&T CEO John Donovan.

Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester — along with three other members of Congress — queried owner of DBS provider DirecTV asking when they plan to finally act on a 2003 pledge to bring local TV stations, where found, to every DMA.

At present, 12 tiny markets where DirecTV operates uses STELAR to bring distant TV signals, rather than provide subscribers with what the Copyright Alliance and the NAB consider to be local TV stations.

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

As the NAB sees it, “Congress never intended for satellite TV legislation that permits ‘unserved homes’ to import distant network TV signals to live in perpetuity.”

Information for this hearing, including the Committee Memorandum, witness list and testimony, and a live webcast, will be posted HERE as they become available.

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