Advocate for the Elderly Urges Congress to Renew STELAR

Op-ed in ‘The Hill’ calls on lawmakers to update “arcane” legislation.
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Viewers who are fed up with ongoing TV blackouts caused by battles between broadcasters and pay-TV operators could confront a “permanent” blackout of their local TV channels if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) before it expires at the end of 2019, according to advocates for the elderly.

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Passed in 1992, STELA ensures that satellite TV subscribers in rural areas are able to receive their local TV channels. Without such legislation, they could instead end up receiving TV stations from locales outside their viewing area.

In an op-ed published in The Hill today, Debra Berlyn, president of Consumer Policy Solutions and the executive director of Project GOAL, a project to raise awareness of both the benefits and challenges of innovative new technologies for the aging community, called recent sporadic blackouts “unjust” and called on legislators to include provisions that would curtail rising retransmission costs that are the source of most local TV station blackouts.

“While these unjust and sporadic blackouts are a concern for all of us nationwide, 870,000 consumers [sic] will confront a permanent blackout of their TV service in just a few short months,” Berlyn wrote. “This can be avoided if members of Congress act quickly and reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) before it expires at the end of the year.

“The current situation has created space for retransmission fees to continue to skyrocket and, unfortunately, those growing fees are passed down to consumers,” Berlyn added. “A stronger good faith measure is needed as part of STELAR so that broadcasters cannot threaten station blackouts unless their request for increased fees is met. Consumers have a stake in this as they are the ones bearing the costs. This provision would limit this unfair negotiating tactic and prevent the TV blackouts that consumers do not deserve and don’t understand. They just want their TV service.”

Berlyn added that the elderly in particular are among the most vulnerable if STELAR isn’t reauthorized.

“While all consumers should be concerned, older adults have a special interest too because they watch a significant amount of TV and depend on access to local programming,” Berlyn wrote. “The TV is often their go-to source for important content including local news, weather, traffic and community information that is, at times, critically important.”