Hearing Sets Stage for TV Law Debate

Draft legislation unveiled in advance of a hearing this week on satellite television law is preparing the way for a battle on video law more broadly. The provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) are set to sunset at the end of this year, but this week’s hearing showed that Republicans and Democrats in Congress are not yet on the same page about how to approach extending the term of that statute.

One sticking point at this moment appears to be joint sales agreements (JSAs).  Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, took issue with the draft bill’s proposal to halt FCC proceedings on JSAs in advance of a completed quadrennial review of media ownership rules. For his part, Chairman Greg Walden said he was “really frustrated with the FCC,” and in his opening statement he declared, “[FCC] Chairman Wheeler is putting the JSA cart before the media ownership horse. The FCC is required by law to review the entire set of media ownership laws every four years. It has consistently failed to follow the law. If a licensee of the FCC failed to follow the law, it would lose its license or suffer some severe penalty.”

Significantly, in this initial draft legislation, rules establishing the responsibility of pay-TV providers to carry local TV stations on their base platforms (“Must Carry”) are not altered.  NRB has been vocal in its concern that Congress not abandon the decades-old commitment to local television, particularly religious television, and NRB will continue to be vigilant in this area of great importance for Christian television ministries.

Notably, Senate Commerce Committee leaders are also considering how wide of a communications law net to cast as they begin their review of STELA, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on this subject on March 26.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: March 14, 2014