U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Passes Satellite Reauthorization Bill

November 20, 2009

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), according to Senate reports released Nov. 19.
STELA, the committee’s version of the satellite reauthorization bill, extends licenses for satellite operators to carry out-of-market network TV station signals for viewers who are unable to receive them from their in-market station without mandates to small, local service providers.

The bill also includes an incentive that satellite operators carry state public affairs networks, such as C-SPAN for state governments. The incentive, however, is not required.

The committee version of the bill also cuts the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s HD non-commercial signal delivery requirement timetable, also known as the PBS HD mandate, in half – from four to two years. In a statement to press officials, Dish Network representatives said they "continue to have concerns about the practical and constitutional problems associated with the [mandate]."

The bill has a long way to go before finding its way into law. STELA must first be reconciled with a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee version that includes mandates for small, local markets lacking one or more network affiliate and be voted on in the full Senate, followed by conference with a U.S. House of Representatives version and then conference between all versions.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Canada, where the Canadian Radio and Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a mandate in May that requires Canadian TV networks to make larger investments in local programming and Canadian content, prompting a lawsuit from digital TV provider Bell Canada, which was dropped in August.