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All Eyes on DC with New STELAR Options, Pushback on Ownership Ruling

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is seeing bipartisan pushback on his plan to roll out a full five-year renewal of STELAR, while the NAB, FCC and others are appealing a federal court decision overturning the FCC’s ownership deregulation plan. Clearly, there’s no shortage of industry issues brewing in DC to garner our attention – and none of them involves the impeachment inquiry.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, has made clear his support for renewing STELAR for another five years, but members of both parties have reservations – a recipe for an effort to compromise. The two key components of the law involve the good faith provision and the distant signal compulsory license.

On the Judiciary Committee side of the equation – where the distant signal issue resides in terms of policy jurisdiction – Chairman Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina – remains out of sync with his Commerce Committee counterpart.

Instead, Graham wants the law to transition to a free market and has secured the commitment of all four major English-language networks to a one-year transition period during which they ensure that no viewers would be left without local broadcast signals.

House Committee Tees Up Its Own STELAR Bill
The lower chamber also is working on STELAR, as evidenced by H.R. 5035, the “Television Viewer Protection Act” which was announced by Rep. Michael Doyle, D-Penn., Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman.

This legislation renews the two key provisions of STELAR that broadcasters oppose.  In addition, the measure allows smaller Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) to collectively negotiate for retransmission consent with large broadcasters. 

Additionally, it requires MVPDs, internet service providers, and telephone providers (both fixed and mobile) to include all charges in the prices they advertise and bill for services. 

Lastly, the bill requires greater transparency in electronic bills and provides remedies to consumers for certain increases in charges.

Ownership Ruling Appealed to Higher Court

The decision in September by a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to throw out the FCC’s 2017 ownership deregulation plans didn’t sit well with the FCC, the NAB or station groups, so they now are pressing the full court to hear the case.

The September ruling put on ice the ban on cross ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspapers in the same market, the lifting of limits on Radio-Television cross ownership, and a measure that would have allowed Television broadcasters to own two TV stations in markets with fewer than eight independent owners.

Also repealed in the action was an FCC plan to develop an “incubator program” involving just Radio stations in which large companies would assist a new entrant into broadcasting succeed in making a going concern of a station. That provision was reflected in the NAB’s separate recommendation to the FCC that Radio ownership limits be drastically lifted.

As attorney David Oxenford explains, the court panel didn’t find the FCC’s deregulation plans weren’t justified by changes in the media marketplace.

“Instead, the panel voided the FCC’s decision because it did not believe that the FCC had enough historical data on minority and female ownership to be able to judge the effects of any ownership changes on diversity of ownership in the media industry.”

Read More from Oxenford

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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