The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) will become the focus of hearings in Washington on June 5th and 6th. Passed nearly 30 years ago, the legislation is scheduled to be renewed. At the time, Congress gave the nascent satellite industry an exception to the copyright law and allowed it to import distant broadcast signals into local markets. This made sense because there were not enough satellite transponders to have every local TV station beamed back into its own local TV market. No such technical constraints exist today. For example, both AT&T and DISH provide local-into-local TV service for every market in New York State. DISH provides “local-into-local service” in all 210 TV markets. Only AT&T (DirecTV) has failed to provide local service in all markets. Most of these are very small markets out west. Ironically, the bill serves as a disincentive for AT&T to acquired new transponder capacity. From AT&T’s perspective, “Why purchase new transponders when you can import a distant network signal.”
So why do we care? STELAR has become a legislative vehicle for both the cable and satellite industry to undermine the current free market retransmission consent process. In the past, they have tried to use the legislation to cripple retransmission consent negotiations. As noted above, however, the underlying rationale for the legislation has long since passed. Today it simply subsidizes AT&T by allowing it to continue avoiding local into local service in all TV markets.
NYSBA’s position is clear. We do not believe STELAR should be extended. Congress should allow the law to expire. Its time has passed.
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