President Signs Leahy-Authored Reauthorization Of Satellite TV Licenses

WASHINGTON – President Obama has signed into law legislation authored by Senator Patrick Leahy to reauthorize satellite television licenses and to modernize satellite television services.  The legislation will particularly benefit Vermonters in Bennington and Windham counties, who now may be able to receive Burlington networks through DISH, in addition DirecTV.  The President signed the bill into law on Thursday.

“Vermonters are connected by the programming the state’s networks provide to television viewers, and with this new law, they can depend on continued service from satellite television providers,” said Leahy.  “I urge DISH network to quickly work to exercise its new license to bring Burlington programming to Vermonters in Bennington and Windham counties. The news and information provided by Vermont stations to Vermonters should be available to consumers throughout the state.”

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) will reauthorize expiring statutory licenses that permit satellite providers to retransmit broadcast stations to consumers.  It 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 Bennington and Windham counties, allowing DISH Network viewers, like DirecTV viewers, to receive Vermont broadcast stations by satellite.  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.

Key provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act will:

  • Protect broadcasters’ multicast programming from distant signal duplication beginning on October 1, for multicast programming that existed as of March 31, 2010; and on January 1, 2011, for all other multicast programming.
  • Expand 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.
  • Improve 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 DMA.
  • 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. 
  • Make 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.
  • Address 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. 
  • Provide an incentive for DISH Network to provide local service in all 210 DMAs. 
  • Extend the distant signal license until the end of 2014.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing in March 2009 about the importance of ensuring television carriage in the digital age.  Leahy invited Vermont State Senator Robert Hartwell of Dorset, Vermont, to testify at the hearing.  Senator Hartwell testified about the importance of providing Vermonters in Bennington and Windham counties with access to Burlington stations through satellite television providers.

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