Local TV

SHVERA Draft Bill Ties Local-Into-Local Service To Short-Market Fix

Would allow dish back into distant signal business by delivering local TV stations in all 210 DMAs 9/15/2009 07:26:00 AM Eastern

A house Judiciary Committee draft of a SHVERA bill (now named the Satellite Home Viewer Digital Television Act) ties local-into-local service to all 210 DMAs to a short-market fix and does not create an opt-out of the compulsory license for stations with single-source licenses.

A new draft of the House version of the bill reauthorizing satellite operators' compulsory license to deliver distant network signals still contains language that would allow Dish Network back into the distant-signal business in exchange for delivering local TV station signals in all 210 Nielsen markiets, according to a copy obtained by Multichannel News. There are still between two and three-dozen small markets where satellite operators don't deliver local TV station signals because the markets are too small to make it cost-efficient.

But unlike a Judiciary draft back in mid-summer, the new draft makes the waiver temporary, though renewable, and grants it for the delivery of distant signals into so-called short markets. It also puts the courts, not the Copyright office, in charge of monitoring compliance with the 210-market delivery trigger for the waiver.

The new draft also no longer contains a provision that would allow stations to opt out of the compulsory license if they secured a single-source license for all the programming on their air.

According to a draft of the bill, which is being marked up in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday (Sept. 16), a satellite carrier under a court injunction from delivering distant network signals --as is Dish-- would qualify for a waiver from that court injunction to allow it to deliver those distant signals to so-called short markets. Those are the ones that lack at least one of the four major network affiliates.

Currently, Dish must keep an arm's-length relationship to its distant-signal distributor, NPS, after a court concluded the direct-broadcast satellite firm was having too much trouble correctly identifying who should and shouldn't be able to get the distant signals.

But in the version of the bill being circulated Monday --a draft was also circulated in mid-July-- the waiver from the injunction would only be temporary--120 days--and would have to be renewed by the court.

To qualify for the waiver, a carrier would have to be delivering local signals to all 210 markets. If the court found that a waiver recipient --that would most likely be Dish-- willfully failed to serve all markets, it could be fined $250,000 and lose the waiver.

Another difference from the July draft is that in that version, the Register of Copyrights would write the rules and revoke the waiver if the satellite operator did not deliver the 210 markets.

Local into local would be defined as a "good quality" signal to at least 90% of the households in the DMA, as it was in the first draft.

Short markets was another issue Communications Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D. Va.) hoped to fix in the bill, which must pass by the end of the year or the compulsory license will sunset.That would be okay with some broadcasters, who continue to push for the option to forego the license and negotiate carriage independently, saying that is preferable to the government intruding into what should be a free-market negotiation.

In that scenario, which was included in the July draft, if a station could line up all the rights to its programming, it could avoid paying the license and negotiate with cable and satellite operators for carriage, as cable networks do. A station could still opt for the blanket license, but it could also opt out.

The Judiciary version must still be reconciled with the House Energy & Commerce Committee version, which passed out of the Communications subcommittee without short-market or local-into-local "fixes," though Boucher was confident a local-into-local agreement between satellite carriers and stations could be worked out, and was hopeful short markets could also be addressed.

Energy & Commerce and Judiciary share jurisdiction over reauthorizing the license.

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