On September 17, 2014, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved, by voice vote, the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA). As discussed in greater detail in our client advisory of September 16, 2014, STAVRA

  • Extends for five years (i) the retransmission consent exemption applicable to the DBS industry’s delivery of distant network signals to “unserved households”; (ii) the ban on exclusive retransmission consent agreements; and (iii) the requirement that broadcasters and MVPDs negotiate for retransmission consent in “good faith.” (An amendment that would have shortened the extension of these provisions from five years to two years was floated by Senator Thune but not offered or otherwise discussed).  
  • Repeals, after two years, the ban on integrated set-top boxes and requires the FCC to convene a working group to study downloadable security options.  
  • Directs the FCC to establish a streamlined process for effective competition petitions filed by small cable operators.   
  • Prohibits joint retransmission consent negotiations by non-commonly owned stations in the same market.   
  • Prohibits television stations from limiting an MVPD’s ability to carry significantly viewed stations or other stations that the MVPD is otherwise authorized to carry.  
  • Directs the FCC to update the “totality of the circumstances” test for judging complaints alleging a violation of the good faith retransmission consent negotiation requirement.   
  • Requires the FCC to include information regarding retransmission consent costs in its annual cable price survey report.  
  • Gives DBS operators the right to seek market modifications.

The Committee approved two amendments to STAVRA: one offered by Senators Booker (D-NJ) and Fischer (R-NE) requiring the FCC to submit a report to Congress regarding the designation and use of “designated market areas” in the Commission’s rules and one offered by Senator Pryor (D-AR) requiring the FCC to make information about the market modification process available to consumers on the agency’s website. 

In addition, several amendments were offered and then withdrawn. These included

  • Sports Programming Costs. An amendment offered by Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) requiring the FCC to study the impact of sports programming costs on consumers. In lieu of the amendment, Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Blumenthal will write to the GAO asking them to study the issue.  
  • Competitive Device Availability. An amendment offered by Senator Markey (D-MA) that would have replaced the provision in STAVRA repealing the integrated set-top ban in two years with one delaying the repeal until the Commission determines that rules promoting an alternative to the CableCard (e.g., a software-based downloadable security system) have been “fully and successfully” implemented.  
  • Customer Service Requirements. An amendment offered by Senator McCaskill (D-MO) requiring the FCC to update the Cable Act’s customer service provisions; giving the FCC authority to enforce its customer service standards (which currently are enforced by local franchising authorities); requiring the FCC to adopt and enforce customer service standards applicable to DBS operators; and making it unlawful for a cable operator or DBS provider to engage in unfair or deceptive practices within the meaning of the Federal Trade Commission Act.   
  • Modification of the FCC’s JSA Attribution Rule. An amendment offered by Senator Blunt (R-MO) grandfathering existing JSA arrangements that would otherwise be considered to violate the Commission’s broadcast ownership rules under the recent FCC decision deeming JSA’s to create an attributable ownership interest.  
  • Consolidated FCC Reporting. An amendment offered by Senator Heller (R-NV) directing the FCC to publish an annual report on the state of the communications marketplace and repealing various provisions that require the FCC to prepare separate reports on, inter alia, cable industry prices and the state of competition in the video marketplace.

Next Steps. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet acted on legislation that would amend the Copyright Act to extend the expiring DBS compulsory copyright license for another five year term. It is likely that STAVRA will not be considered by the full Senate until the Copyright Act amendment is adopted. While it is possible that one or more of the withdrawn amendments could resurface when STAVRA is debated by the full Senate, it is unlikely. Once the Senate approve STAVRA, a conference committee will have to be convened to reconcile differences between the Senate-passed bill and the previously passed House bill (described in our September 16, 2014 Client Advisory).