By a voice vote, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has passed an extension of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVRA) and sent it on to the full House for a vote. An important change to HR 2994 approved Thursday would require the FCC to conduct a study on how the DTV conversion should impact determining which satellite customers are permitted to subscribe to out-of-market network affiliate feeds.
Although final approval was on a voice vote, that came after adoption of a controversial amendment by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) which sets a deadline in 2011 for Dish Network to conclude a negotiated schedule for including public television stations in its HD local-to-local service, or carriage would become mandatory in all markets where Dish offers commercial local stations in HD. Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) argued against the amendment, expressing concerns that Dish would not have the satellite capacity to both add the PBS affiliates in HD and extend local-to-local to all 210 television DMAs by 2011. Dish had provided the committee with a letter committing to that 210-market goal. At present, there are still 28 markets where neither Dish nor DirecTV offers local-to-local service.
Despite opposition from some Democrats and nearly all Republicans, the Eshoo amendment passed 31 to 20 and is now part of the bill heading to the full House.
The FCC has some work spelled out in the bill as it now stands. In light of the coverage pattern changes from the digital conversion, the Commission is supposed to examine what type of home antenna should be used in determining whether a satellite subscriber is located where they should be able to receive an over-the-air network affiliate using an antenna. Only those who are not theoretically able to receive an over-the-air signal are eligible to subscribe to a channel that imports that network from a distant market.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the only former broadcast station owner in Congress, sought assurances that the FCC would not be using the least capable antenna possible in making that determination. Boucher assured him that the Commission would examine a range of antenna types.
The FCC will also be studying the issue of whether satellite providers should be able to deliver in-state TV signals to counties in DMAs where the primary city is located in another state. It’s an issue also being looked into regarding cable carriage.
Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) complained of “orphaned counties” not receiving news reports dealing with their own state. Much of his Georgia 9th District is within the Chattanooga, TN television DMA.
Some other members noted the copyright issues involved and warned that Congress should not go so far as to rework the entire structure of the US television industry. In past discussions of the issue, it was noted that cable and satellite providers are free to deliver local newscasts and other original programming from those in-state stations now, but must block out network and syndicated programming where another broadcaster owns the rights for that DMA.