Congress passes Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010

On a voice vote in the House last week, Congress finally passed the satellite extension act — legislation that loosens how households qualify for outside-market TV signals carried by direct broadcast satellite providers.

Previously, DBS operators could carry these distant signals to households unable to receive in-market TV stations over the air. However, the new legislation eliminates Grade B bleed — essentially poor reception of a local station — allowing more households to qualify for distant signals. It also allows households outside of a Longley-Rice reception area to qualify.

The legislation encompasses digital transition, multicast feeds and noncommercial HD stations. It directs DBS providers to provide local broadcast signals in all 210 TV markets. In return, it lifts a court injunction on DISH Network, preventing it from carrying distant signals.

It also fixes the cable “phantom signal” issue — when a cable operator carries a particular TV signal in only part of its service area, but must pay royalties for the entire area. The bill raises royalty rates to make copyright holders whole.

The legislation extends the distant signal provision through Dec. 31, 2014. The Senate passed the legislation May 7, and the bill was sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature.