Television Viewer Protection Act H.R. 5035 Scheduled for a Vote Today Before the House Commerce Committee

Note: As we go to press at 12 noon members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are trying to work out a compromise

The Television Viewer Protection Act (H.R. 5035) is scheduled for a vote today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill passed the Subcommittee on Communications last week by a voice vote. The issue has been moving at a furious pace. With fourteen legislative days left in the year, time is getting short to extend STELAR, which expires on December 31, 2019.

By way of background, STELAR was enacted 30 years ago. It gave the nascent satellite industry an exemption from the copyright law and allowed it to import distant network signals to homes that could not receive local affiliates over the air with an antenna.  It is up for renewal every 5 years and is set to expire on December 31, 2019.

We believe the law should expire. STELAR has become nothing more than a vehicle for adding new regulations on to local television broadcasters.  The legislation is proceeding on two distinct tracks.

The first track involves matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the House Commerce Committee. As we go to press, the Committee is working on three issues. The goal is to get bipartisan agreement.

First, there is the issue of establishing a permanent statutory “good faith” negotiating requirement.  Such a requirement already exists in the law. We support making this obligation permanent, because it will settle the issue once and for all.  It will eliminate having to address new, more burdensome, regulations every five years.

The second issue concerns allowing “smaller cable companies” to join together and collectively negotiate with television stations. This collective negotiation would apply to cable operators with up to a million subscribers nationally. We have significant antitrust concerns with this approach and oppose its inclusion in a final bill.

The third issue before the House Commerce Committee involves providing transparency in cable bills.  We have no problems with this provision and believe it will help consumers.

Three New York Representatives are on that committee; Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; Congressman Eliot Engel and Congressman Paul Tonko. We have been in contact with all these offices to convey our views on each subject.

At the same time, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D NY) has introduced a bill dealing with the copyright aspects of STELAR. Known as the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019, it would significantly narrow the current STELAR law.

As noted previously, the ability to import a distant signal under STELAR is actually an exemption from the copyright law.  Chairman Nadler’s bill would make permanent the satellite exemption for RV’s, trucks and the few markets without network signals. It would eliminate the exemption for homes.  Moreover, to use the exemption for RV and Trucks, ATT/DirecTV will have to provide local-into-local service to all homes in all U.S. markets.  We support this bill.  Again by making some aspects of STELAR permanent, the legislation will settle the issue once and for all.  It will eliminate having to address new, more burdensome, regulations every five years.


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