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Congressman Bows Bill to Import TV Signals

WASHINGTON: Arkansas Democrat Mike Ross is pushing legislation to overturn the current rules governing which broadcast signals satellite and cable operators can carry. Ross is member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he intends to refer the so-called “Local Television Freedom Act of 2009.”

Ross noted that current law dictates that pay providers carry the signals of TV stations according to reception in designated market areas. Around half of those DMAs cross state lines, leaving a portion of pay TV subscribers watching broadcast stations from a neighboring state. The rules are part of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act, which recently passed a Commerce subcommittee with a comment from its chairman that the local TV signal issue would be addressed.

The Ross legislation would allow satellite and cable companies to carry the signals of in-state TV stations in markets adjacent to those defined by DMA boundaries, as well as ones within those boundaries. H.R. 3216 adds the following to the Communications Act:

“A television broadcast station that elects retransmission consent may not request as a condition to receiving retransmission consent that a multichannel video programming distributor not exercise its right to carry any other broadcast station in the station's adjacent underserved county.”

Co-sponsors include Democrats Marion Berry of Arkansas, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Travis Childers of Mississippi, Barney Frank and James McGovern of Massachusetts, Baron Hill of Indiana, and John Tanner of Tennessee; Republicans Wally Herger of California, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and Adrian Smith of Nebraska.

“The time has come to stop delivering 21st century technologies with 1950s business practices,” Ross said in a statement announcing the bill. “Americans should not be bound by outdated laws that prevent them from receiving their home state programming. Everyone who wishes to receive their local channels in their home state should have the option to do so…. Arkansans want to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks, and my bill will give those who live on or near the border of another state the ability to watch the Hogs--not the LSU Tigers.”

Ross’s bill was hailed by at least two D.C. lobbies, including consumer-oriented Public Knowledge and the American Cable Association. The broadcast lobbies were mum.

-- Deborah D. McAdams

Previous TVB SHVERA coverage:
June 25, 2009: “SHVERA Passes House Subcommittee”
The only changes to the legislation as it was written in 2004 were the date and the provision to measure digital signal coverage using the Longley-Rice model employed by the FCC. The bill renews satellite carriage of certain out-of-market broadcast signals for another five years.

June 16, 2009: “Broadcasters Battle for Signal Protection”
The broadcast lobby is playing the localism card in a big way as Congress considers the renewal of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act. Cable and satellite operators are agitating to import the signals of TV stations in distant markets, while broadcasters contend that doing so will destroy incumbent stations. Currently, the law allows carriers to provide distant signals to households that cannot receive TV stations in their own designated market areas.

May 8, 2009: “ACA Says Retrans is Squeezing Too Hard”
The cable industry has not yet rolled over on retransmission consent, whether or not it comes up in pending satellite copyright legislation. The American Cable Association this week released a summary of how broadcasters reaped hefty retrans fees from cable operators in the first quarter of this year. The broadcast lobby in turn released numbers showing how much money cable operators are making from subscribers.

March 30, 2009: “Network Affiliates Urge Lawmakers to Preserve Distant-Signal Limits”
CBS and NBC are urging key lawmakers to maintain restrictions on what TV stations cable and satellite operators can carry in a given market. The networks today penned separate letters to members of the House and Senate committees handling the renewal of SHVERA, the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act.

(Image by redteam)