Leahy-Backed Extension Of Satellite TV Licenses Included In Proposed Jobs Legislation

WASHINGTON – Provisions negotiated by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to modernize satellite television services and to reauthorize the expiring statutory licenses that permit satellite providers to retransmit broadcast stations to consumers has been included in legislation introduced Monday to bolster job growth and creation.  When enacted, the legislation will again authorize satellite providers to retransmit broadcast stations to consumers. 

“This important legislative package will modernize and streamline the statutory licenses that allow cable and satellite providers to retransmit the content of broadcast television signals to their subscribers,” said Leahy.  “After months of negotiations, we have struck a reasonable agreement to advance this legislation.  I hope Congress will quickly pass this important bill.”

Congress provided a two-month extension of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act late last year, but objections from a single Senate Republican has prevented the Senate from passing a measure to extend the provisions until the end of March.  The authorization expired Sunday night.  Last Friday, Leahy and other congressional leaders sent a letter to television providers, urging them to continue providing services to customers, despite the expiration of the licenses.

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA), which was included in the jobs legislation introduced Monday, will expire in 2014.

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked with members in the Senate and House to strike an agreement on the legislation.  Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.), participated in the discussions. 

The legislation will reauthorize the expiring statutory licenses that permit satellite providers to retransmit broadcast stations to consumers, and will also modernize and simplify the licenses, while making adjustments that will encourage satellite providers to make more local content available.  The legislation includes a provision that will particularly benefit Vermont satellite television customers in Vermont’s southern-most counties, allowing DISH Network viewers, like DirecTV viewers, to receive Vermont broadcast stations by satellite. 

Leahy said, “I encourage DISH Network to make preparations now and use this new authority as soon as the law is enacted to provide Vermont broadcast stations to subscribers in Bennington and Windham.”

In addition, the legislation solves the so-called “cable phantom signal” problem which, if left unaddressed, would lead to higher prices and fewer regional stations for Vermont cable customers.  In northern Vermont, for example, this provision will make it possible for Comcast subscribers to continue to receive Hockey Night in Canada, which otherwise may not have remained available. 

Leahy introduced bipartisan legislation to address the expiring Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act in September.  On September 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the Satellite Television Modernization Act.  The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last year to explore needed updates to the satellite provisions. 

The legislation draws on recommendations made by the United States Copyright Office in a June 2008 report.  Congress first passed the Satellite Home Viewer Act in 1988 and it was last reauthorized in 2004.    

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The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010

For Background Purposes Only

  • STELA protects broadcasters’ multicast programming from distant signal duplication beginning on July 1, for multicast programming that existed as of December 31, 2009; and on January 1, 2011, for all other multicast programming.
  • STELA expands access to low power stations by broadening the license for low power stations to cover the entire local market.  Currently, a satellite provider can only carry a low power station within 20-35 miles of the station’s transmitter, which as a practical matter makes it nearly impossible for a satellite provider to use.
  • STELA improves the ability of satellite providers to serve short markets with local signals by fixing the “Grade B Bleed” issue in which an out-of-market station serves some households within a market, preventing a satellite carrier from using the distant signal license to provide an affiliate of that network to the entire Designated Market Area (DMA).
  • STELA will expand access to public television by permitting a satellite provider to carry a noncommercial educational broadcast station from within a consumer’s state if the station is part of a state-wide network, even if the station is licensed to a community in a different local market. 
  • STELA makes numerous updates in the distant signal license to take account of the transition from analog to digital television and moves quasi-local signals (e.g., significantly viewed, local low power, special exceptions) from the distant signal license to the local license.
  • STELA addresses the “phantom signal” issue in which, under current law, cable providers may be required to pay royalty fees based on subscribers who do not receive the content for which the royalty is being paid. 
  • STELA provides an incentive for DISH Network to provide local service in all 210 DMAs. 
  • STELA extends the distant signal license until the end of 2014.

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