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Senate Leaders See Different Paths on STELAR

- Graham Lays Out Transition Plan

The Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees share jurisdiction over STELAR but their leaders are taking different approaches to the question of whether the satellite TV legislation should finally expire as scheduled at the end of the year.

Commerce leader Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, just last week suggested he was prepared to reauthorize the law in a hearing that was largely stacked against broadcasters. But almost as soon as the hearing concluded, Judiciary chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, indicated instead that he thinks it’s time to phase out the law.

The question turns on the compulsory license. The law allows satellite providers to import out-of-market network affiliated TV signals into certain markets rather than negotiate individually for the license with local broadcasters. The U.S. Copyright Office has recommended since 2011 that Congress terminate the license.

Graham reportedly sent letters to the broadcast networks that characterized Congress’ previous decision to temporarily extend the law as a tacit agreement with the Copyright Office’s position.

His letters asked each network to outline plans for transitioning to a free market once the law sunsets. Graham’s key questions:

  1. Will networks provide a one-year license to satellite providers for their programming in exchange for a “market by market” usage fee from each provider, including for use by long-distance truckers and RV owners?
  2. Will networks agree to charge, during the transition period, a rate comparable to the compulsory license rate charged by the Copyright Royalty Board for 2018?
  3. Will networks work with their affiliates to negotiate during the transition on a carriage agreement for “full local-into-local on both Dish and DirecTV for deals beginning Jan. 1, 2021”?
  4. For areas without local affiliates, will networks commit to negotiating with satcos on a carriage agreement beginning no later than Jan. 1, 2021?

Graham gave the networks until Nov. 12 to reply, the day before Wicker has stated he wants to begin considering drafting a bill to renew the law.

NAB has signaled its support for Graham’s direction, saying the compulsory distant signal license is providing DirecTV a disincentive for providing subscribers with local broadcast programming.

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

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