Editorial: On Board and Ready

STELA needs to avoid major video reform to meet deadline

The House Communications Subcommittee appears to have come up with a draft of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) that broadcasters and cable and satellite operators can live with.

Now if only Congress can follow suit.

Broadcasters have even OK’d—or at least the National Association of Broadcasters is not loudly protesting—a provision that would limit coordinated retransmission negotiations among two or more independently owned stations in a market. It’ a compromise, but one they are willing to make.

Broadcasters would prefer that not be in the mix, but they are not going to fall on their sword over it, particularly since the draft also includes a provision that would try to block the FCC’s effort to make some TV joint sales agreements (JSAs) attributable under local and national ownership limits.

Cable operators would just as soon JSAs get counted, but they won’t fall on their own sword over that since the draft limits coordinated retrans— which they have been pushing for—and would eliminate the FCC’s ban on integrated set-tops, which means cable operators would not have to spend extra on separate security hardware for their leased cable boxes.

Compromises and drafts are nice, but this bill is a long way from inspiring champagne to be popped. And if past is prologue, the House Judiciary, Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees will all have something to say.

The Senate is already making noise that the bill could become a vehicle for any number of video reforms that would likely make it into the contentious wrangle we’ve come to expect from STELA.

House Republicans were saying they wanted to keep the bill relatively clean. But the provisions they have suggested to slightly dirty it could be the hole in the dike that becomes a flood.

It has already begun to crack, with leading Democrats saying they can’t accept the JSA blocking or set-top provisions.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who also said he can’t accept the bill as drafted, held out hope that the committee can come to some meeting of the minds.

We certainly hope so. As Committee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) signaled early on, the cleaner the bill, the better chance of passage.

Next up is a Senate STELA hearing, where we hope the bill will not get weighed down with video reforms.

In fact, here’s a goal: Let’s leave major video reform for the separate communications law revamp and get STELA done by the Dec. 31 deadline.