The Senate Thursday passed a stand-alone version of
the STELA, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, that
changes what has been a five-year renewal of the satellite license to 10
That is yet another wrinkle in the satellite bill saga, with
now three different bills with three different deadlines, including a 10-year
reauthorization plan circulating.
The bill reauthorizes the license that allows satellite
subscribers who cannot get a viewable signal from their in-market affiliate to
get an out-of-market version. It will also get local signals to the remaining
28 or so smaller markets where it has been uneconomical to deliver them.
The change to a 10-year window was said to be so that
the bill would "score" in terms of being revenue neutral, which
it is not at five years due to the way copyright fees are collected and disbursed
over a five-year window, as opposed to 10. Apparently, due to an accounting
issue, the bill at five years has the government paying out more than it would
be taking in, which would need to be offset somewhere else due to the new pay
as you go (paygo) rule that any legislation that has a negative fund
outlay has to include offsets.
The 10-year version would actually be revenue positive to
the tune of $270-$280 million, according to a committee source, though that is
"accounting money and not real money," said another source.
That 10-year version now goes to the House, which already
has a Senate-passed version of the same bill with the five-year renewal.
The House and Senate Thursday (March 25) also passed a
30-day extension on the satellite license, which means they have that much more
time to decide between the two bills.
The license had been scheduled to expire Dec. 31,
2009-the end of the previous five-year period-after a reauthorization bill
failed to pass. But a stop-gap extension of the license was passed, in a
package of other extensions, to Feb. 28, then again to March 28 when no
agreement could be reached--reportedly due to the revenue-neutrality issue, and
now to April 30 as the House figures out which of the two bills to pass.
According to Senate Commerce Committee sources, the April 30
extension passed on the understanding that the Senate would also pass the
10-year version of the bill and let the House take a crack at it when it
returns from spring break.
According to committee source, "nobody loves the idea
of the 10-year reauthorization" given the pace of change in the industry.
The bill also contains studies of whether the license should be phased
out and whether there should be modifications to other elements of local
TV station signal delivery. But Congress would not necessarily have to wait
until the authorization sunsets to revisit it, the sources pointed out, and 10
years should take care of the revenue neutrality issues that appeared to be
holding up the five-year renewal in the House.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate
Judiciary, which shares jurisdiction over the issue with Commerce, agreed that
10 years was not his first choice, and signaled he wouldn't mind the House
passing the five-year extension that the Senate has already approved.
"Today, the Senate passed the Satellite Television
Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA), which is a full, 10-year
reauthorization. Since the inception of the distant signal license, the
license has been reauthorized for five year periods, giving all stakeholders an
opportunity to revisit it and Congress the opportunity to improve it," he
said. "Reauthorizing the law for 10 years is not my preferred course of
action. In fact, the Senate previously passed a five-year version of STELA that
makes significant improvements to current law, as part of H.R. 4213, which is
currently pending in the House of Representatives.
"The version of STELA passed by unanimous consent in
the Senate today contains all of the improvements from the five-year version.
Nonetheless, it is my view that enacting a five-year extension is preferable,
given the rate at which technology is altering the marketplace. I urge the
House of Representatives to enact STELA as swiftly as possible once Congress
returns from Easter recess, and I look forward to working with them to
accomplish that goal."