On the heels of last week’s House vote to adopt satellite reauthorization legislation that would extend the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) compulsory license through 2019, the compromise bill, known as the STELA Reauthorization Act (STELARA), passed the Senate late last Thursday.
Senate adoption of STELARA was achieved through hotlining—an off-the-floor method of winning fast track passage through which a bill is adopted unanimously without a roll call, provided no objections are received. (If any “nays” are registered, the measure is then relegated to the customary processes of debate and floor vote.) Observers also say that a potential impediment to STELARA’s passage was removed when Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)—a sponsor of competing Senate legislation that would also extend the DBS compulsory license—committed not to block the measure in spite of his objections to provisions that eliminate the integrated set-top box ban.
In addition to extending the DBS compulsory license through 2019, STELARA would make several important changes to the retransmission consent process that are expected to lay the groundwork for more comprehensive reforms. Specifically, broadcasters would be: (1) prohibited from participating in joint retransmission consent negotiations with other broadcasters that serve the same market, (2) barred from preventing the entry of “significantly viewed” signals from other designated market areas into their local markets, and (3) given a six-month extension of the FCC deadline to unwind joint sales agreements. As reported last week, STELARA requires the FCC to review its definition of “good faith negotiations” within the context of retransmission consent and establish a technical working group to make recommendations on a downloadable security system to replace the existing “CableCard” set top box security solution. STELARA also permits the FCC to act on requests to add or subtract areas from a local television market in accordance with a market modification process prescribed by the legislation.
STELARA now moves to the desk of President Obama who is expected to sign the measure into law. As the National Cable & Telecommunications Association predicted that STELARA “will appropriately update our nation’s video laws to better reflect the realities of today’s robustly competitive video marketplace,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) declared that STELARA “shows the American people how Congress can come together in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion to pass legislation.”