Satellite License Renewed Until April 30

Delivery of out-of-market signals extended once again

Satellite TV companies have until at least April 30 to
deliver out-of-market affiliate TV station signals to millions of their

The House and Senate Thursday night (March 25) passed extensions
of the satellite blanket license that allows satellite companies to deliver
distant network-affiliated TV station signals to subscribers who can't receive
a local affiliate of their own, according to a House Judiciary Committee

The extensions are until April 30 and are on top of two
previous extensions of the Dec. 31, 2009, expiration date for the license

There is a separate five-year reauthorization bill, STELA,
or the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, that House Communications
& Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has said now has
bipartisan support. But with jobs and healthcare issues on the front burner and
Congress trying to head out the door for spring break, the full bill did not
get a vote in time and yet another extension was needed.

The first extension was to Feb. 28, then to March 28.
Legislators were not even able to pass the March 28 extension in time to avoid
a several-day gap in which the license technically expired.

The Judiciary committees had to send letter to copyright holders
and distributors asking them to maintain the status quo--which they did--on the
promise that the bill that passed would be retroactive to the Feb. 28 date.

Among other things, the bill renews the blanket license,
fixes the so-called phantom signal issue in which cable operators pay a fee for
some subscribers who don't actually get the signals, extends local TV station
delivery to satellite subscribers in the 28 smaller markets that lack local
into local service (DISH will deliver them in exchange for being allowed back
into the distant network signal-delivery business), and moves up the deadlines
for delivery of noncommercial stations' HD signals.

One of the hold-ups in the bill was the language allowing
DISH back into the distant-signal business. Since that move would effectively
free it from a court injunction, some Judiciary committee Republicans wanted
the language toughened in terms of penalties for noncompliance. That language
was toughened in the latest incarnation of the bill.