Senate Commerce Passes Satellite TV Bill

WASHINGTON: The Senate Commerce Committee today passed its version of legislation that directs the carriage of local TV stations on satellite systems. What is now known as STELA, for the “Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act,” passed the committee in a voice vote on a package of bills that included bones for low-power FM radio stations, sharks, the Chesapeake Bay and public transportation.

STELA extends for five years the right for satellite TV providers to carry out-of-market TV signals to household that can’t receive stations in their own markets. Current law, known as SHVERA, expires at the end of this year. This new legislation also replaces language referring to analog signals with references to digital transmissions, and directs the FCC to develop a correlative reception test. It also directs the commission to determine whether the licensing scheme it extends should be scuttled in favor of negotiations between stations and DBS providers.

Several legislators have pushed DBS operators to carry local stations in all 210 TV markets. DirecTV does so in 152 markets; Dish Network, in 182--both as of Oct. 8. They say the remaining markets are too cost-prohibitive to serve. The Commerce version of the bill doesn’t require or provide incentives for local-into-local in all 210 markets, but Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D.-WV) said the issue would be a priority when the legislation is merged with versions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That mash-up must then be voted on by the full Senate and reconciled with a similarly mashed-up version in the House that has yet to reach the floor.

(Image by Jeremy Fitzhardinge)