Gordon Smith Sees No Justification for Renewing STELAR

WASHINGTON—The time has come for the STELAR Act to fade off into the sunset, according to NAB CEO and President Gordon Smith, who testified in front of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for the “STELAR Review: Protecting Consumers in an Evolving Media Marketplace” hearing.

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

The STELAR Act, which was first introduced in 1988 and renewed most recently in 2014, is unnecessary due to media marketplace advances, said Smith in his testimony. Not only that, he described how “any reauthorization will further harm satellite viewers that are currently denied access to their local stations as a result of this law.”

Smith highlights that local broadcast TV remains one of the most important sources of news, emergency updates and entertainment for communities across the country. But there are many communities that are being served by out-of-market stations as a result of STELAR, per Smith, which he said helped provide a “crutch” to satellite companies.

“Those nascent satellite companies that Congress Subsidized are now multi-billion-dollar behemoths,” his statement reads. “And today’s competition for viewers comes not only from those giant pay-TV providers and their cable brethren, but also unregulated tech companies such as Facebook and Google, and online video providers like Netflix and Amazon.

“Most importantly, no technological impediment exists today to prevent AT&T-DirecTV and DISH from providing local broadcast channels to their subscribers across the country. Yet STELAR’s distant signal provisions incentivize those companies to serve a shrinking universe of eligible viewers with out-of-market stations because of its subsidy.”

Smith highlighted this fact with a story of DirecTV subscribers in a community in Iowa that saw a story on a garbage truck fire in Los Angeles rather than the rising prices of crop insurance for farmers in Iowa.

“To end this consumer harm and modernize the video marketplace law, Congress should allow STELAR to expire as it was originally intended” Smith concluded. “There is no policy justification or technological reason for this outdated law to be reauthorized. The time has come to stop subsidizing billion-dollar satellite companies and to instead provide viewers with the most accurate and timely source of community news, weather and emergency information—their local broadcast stations.”