Members of the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a compromise satellite reauthorization measure on Wednesday that would extend the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) compulsory license through 2019. The bill also includes other provisions that may constitute a first step in future efforts to reform the retransmission consent regime.
Introduced on Tuesday, the STELA Reauthorization Act (STELARA) is said to be the fruit of bipartisan negotiations among leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee, and the Senate Commerce Committee. In addition to extending the compulsory license for five years, STELARA would sunset the set-top box integration ban after one-and-a-half years and provide broadcasters with six months beyond the deadline prescribed by the FCC to unwind joint sales agreements. STELARA would also require 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 that would replace the existing “CableCard” set top box security solution. Broadcasters would be prohibited from preventing “significantly viewed” signals in other designated market areas from entering their local markets. Moreover, the FCC would be permitted 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.
Players in the DBS and cable industries welcomed the bill’s passage. Asserting that STELARA “makes important reforms to the outdated laws governing today’s video marketplace,” DISH Network and DirectTV proclaimed in a joint statement that they “look forward to working with Congressional leadership to see this reauthorization swiftly passed into law.” As the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) endorsed the provision to sunset the set-top box integration ban, American Cable Association President Matt Polka singled out Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Chairman-Designate John Thune (R-SD) for praise, noting that “many of the provisions that made [STELARA] commendable originated in the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act that passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee under their leadership earlier this year.” To avoid a lapse of the DBS compulsory license, the Senate must approve STELARA and President Obama must sign the measure into law by December 31.