Sen. Hatch Would Not Be Surprised If STELA Were Expanded
But tells broadcasters a 'clean' reauthorization would probably be best way to go
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/5/2013 12:42:11 PM
That came in a speech to a National Association of Broadcasters audience at its annual State Leadership conference (a "press the D.C. flesh and the issues" opportunity for some 500 local broadcasters).
Hatch was referring to the reauthorization of the compulsory license allowing satellite operators to import distant TV station signals. While broadcasters are all for a "clean" reauthorization if the license is not allowed to sunset, cable operators wouldn't mind expanding the license to include, for example, allowing for continued carriage during retrans impasses, while satellite operators would like to be able to import less-than-distant signals in markets that straddle states.
Citing House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden's scheduling of a hearing last month on STELA, which does not expire until the end of 2014, Leahy called Walden a glutton for punishment. But if past is prologue, the process could be a lengthy one.
Last time around, a bill did not pass until months after the deadline had passed and even an extension had expired, prompting members of Congress to contact content rights-holders and ask them to proceed as though the compulsory license were still in effect.
Hatch, a close friend to former senator, fellow Mormon, and NAB president Gordon Smith, praised both Smith repeatedly, saying on at least three occasions that the group was lucky to have him. He also praised the industry for the jobs it created and the billions it contributed to the economy. He also praised broadcasters' election coverage and emergency communications role.
Hatch said he strongly supported a "truly voluntary" spectrum incentive auction, pointing out that there were issues with translators in his state -- to relay broadcast signals over distances or tough terrain -- that many broadcasters there relied on and which could be adversely affected by post-auction repacking. He said he understood the need for efficiency, but not at the risk of interfering with TV station signals (that drew a "hear, hear" from one audience member).
The system of local broadcasters is critical to the country, he told his audience. He said Congress should pay attention and not foul up that system, then added wryly: "If anyone can [foul it up], it's the Congress of the United States."
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