FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler disclosed in a Wednesday blog post that he has begun circulating a trio of draft items among the FCC’s commissioners that would fulfill Congressional mandates prescribed by the 2014 STELA Reauthorization Act (STELARA) and that would also eliminate the FCC’s Syndicated Exclusivity (Syndex) rule to allow multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to offer out-of-market broadcast channels to their subscribers.

The STELARA-related items consist of (1) an order enacting procedures by which parties may seek modification of a broadcast station’s local television market for the purpose of satellite carriage, and (2) a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to explore whether practices currently used by MVPDs and broadcasters to negotiate terms for retransmission consent meet the statutory definition of “good faith.” In the words of Wheeler, the draft market modification order outlines the process by which satellite MVPDs may request modification of local TV markets “to add or delete communities in order to better reflect market realities.” Affirming that market modification procedures have been in place for cable MVPDs “since 1992,” Wheeler said the draft order would extend those procedures not only to satellite TV providers in compliance with STELARA directives but also to local governments that will be allowed to “seek changes to markets for purposes of satellite coverage.” Wheeler also observed that the procedures outlined in the draft order could remedy the problem of “orphan counties” by enabling certain satellite TV subscribers “to receive previously unavailable instate broadcast programming.” With respect to the draft NPRM, Wheeler stressed that the FCC’s goal is to ensure that retransmission consent negotiations “are conducted fairly and in a way that protects consumers,” given that such negotiations have increasingly “led to stand-offs and temporary blackouts for pay TV customers.”

Meanwhile, Wheeler asserted that the draft order repealing the Syndex rule might also protect consumers affected by retransmission consent disputes as MVPDs would be able to replace any local stations that are dropped from their channel lineup with out-of-market broadcast stations. Terming the Syndex rule as “outdated,” Wheeler proclaimed that the draft order takes “50-year-old rules off our books that have been rendered unnecessary by today’s marketplace.” Wheeler further maintained that the FCC, through the draft order, “takes its thumb off the scales and leaves the scope of such exclusivity to be decided by the parties, as [it] did in the Sports Blackout Order last year.” Although Wheeler did not offer a timetable for the FCC’s vote, the agency is required by law to act on the STELARA-related items by September 4.