Senate Wades Into STELAR Debate With Hearing

WASHINGTON—STELAR went to Washington on Wednesday, and both sides of the debate regarding whether the STELAR should be reauthorized or allowed to sunset made their cases, as well as some introducing new proposals that would better serve customers.

STELAR, which was first introduced in 1988 to establish the compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals into local markets where viewers lack access, is approaching the end of its latest five-year renewal in 2019. Most cable operators want the law renewed, while broadcasters believe it is time for it to go away.

According coverage from TVT’s sister publication, Multichannel News, Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) made it clear that he sees STELAR as a critical law for preserving access to video services for rural residents, and even said that “the committee is preparing to reauthorize STELAR.” However, there were some on the committee, like ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who side with broadcasters and the amount of competition in the industry today makes STELAR unnecessary.

Another area that was discussed was about how STELAR could be used as a vehicle for reforms and just what some of those reforms could be. Things brought up by witnesses included having the current set-aside for noncommercial channels on satellite in the Telecommunications Act also include independent commercial channels; a True Fees Act that would offer transparency to all the fees customers are subject to from MVPDs; and the issue of stations on state borders not receiving signals from stations actually located in their state.

One piece of legislation not on the table, however, is the Local Choice Act that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) previously introduced during the last renewal five years ago. The act would have required broadcasters to sell their signals directly to consumers, who could choose not to take them.

For more information on the STELAR hearing proceedings, read the full report on Multichannel News.