The House Energy & Commerce Committee Thursday approved the compromise Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which now moves to the House floor. It also approved the DOTCOM Act, which requires a GAO study before the U.S. hands off oversight of the ICANN Internet naming organization.
The bipartisan STELA bill renews the compulsory license that allows satellite operators to deliver distant network TV station signals to viewers who can't get local versions over the air and renews the FCC's authority to enforce good faith negotiations. But thanks to some successful cable lobbying, the bill also eliminates the set-top integration ban and prevents joint retransmission consent negotiations by TV stations and the prohibition on cable operators dropping TV station programming during sweeps periods.
The bill also includes an amendment that calls for a GAO study of Nielsen DMAs.
STELA has to pass or the compulsory license and good faith provisions sunset, but the bill still has to clear the full House and either be reconciled with a Senate version, yet to be introduced, or supplant it.
Democrats say the DOTCOM bill is unnecessary and will just delay the hand off of largely ceremonial U.S. oversight of the ICANN naming convention process.
"We are especially pleased that the [STELA] legislation eliminates the FCC’s Integration Ban, an unnecessary mandate that forces cable customers with leased set-top boxes to bear added costs and higher energy use while offering no consumer benefit," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell. "Further, the legislation rightly addresses concerns of anticompetitive harm in retransmission consent negotiations, by barring such collusion or coordination among local broadcast stations that are not commonly owned. We urge the full House and relevant Senate committees to quickly act on this must-pass legislation.”
"The prohibition of joint retrans negotiations is a positive development for consumers," said the American Television Alliance. Runaway retrans fees are piling up on consumers doorsteps and this action can help alleviate one source of this ever growing problem. Collusion should not be allowed and the Committee’s actions will prevent this. The elimination of “sweeps weeks” protection removes one of the many government protections that broadcasters have that skew the marketplace.