House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) signaled Tuesday that he wanted to circulate a draft of the STELA satellite distant signal compulsory license reauthorization bill, which also includes attendant video distribution licenses up for discussion, if not renewal, by the first quarter of next year.
He made the statement in prepared opening remarks for the subcommittee's Sept. 11 hearing on video regulation.
The satellite distant-signal license expires at the end of 2014 and the last time Congress reauthorized it, the process took well over a year and extended past the Dec. 31, 2009 deadline.
"This early stage of the process is a good time for us to take a larger look at the video marketplace," Walden said. "It takes time and process to develop good policy and even more to build consensus. Yet, the deadline for reauthorizing STELA looms large, and we must continue to make progress. With that in mind, I expect to circulate a discussion draft on these issues no later than the first quarter of next year. I am looking forward to continuing to engage with my colleagues and the many industries represented here today on these important issues."
Walden suggested there was a need for overarching telecom reg reform, saying that "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is old enough to get its driver’s license, the Cable Act [of 1992] is old enough to drink alcohol legally, and the Communications Act of 1934 has long been eligible for Social Security."
Cable operators are looking for retrans reform, while broadcasters argue the process is working fine. Broadcasters would like some media ownership reg reform, while politicians on both sides of the aisle argue the FCC's regulatory silos are an anachronism in a world of converging digital media.
Walden seemed ready to tackle the big issues that Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), ranking member of the the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet said Tuesday should be included in debate about STELA reauthorization--Judiciary and Communications subcommittee parent Energy & Commerce share jurisdiction over STELA.
"Given [the] technological changes and the multitude of options available to American consumers, our laws should reflect the operation of the free market in a competitive environment," Walden says in his opening statement. "Instead, we have a satellite law that finds its origins in ensuring access to content for a fledgling industry, a cable law that was passed when cable controlled over 90 percent of the video market, and broadcast rules that ignore the rise of alternatives to over-the-air reception. We can and should be engaged in a lively discussion of how to unshackle the free market and remove the government from the business of manipulating the video marketplace."
But too much Republican-backed "unshackling" could run into opposition from House Democrats and the Democratically controlled Senate.