Broadcasters Quash Proposal to Change Basic Tier Rule [Updated]

Draft bill won't kick broadcasters off

Update: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, on Thursday released a discussion draft to reauthorize the law that allows satellite providers to carry distant TV signals in markets where subscribers can't pick up the TV station over the air. The draft would extend the law for five years, covering the 1.5 million Directv subscribers that would suffer if the law expired at the end of the year. While the draft legislation does not have the kind of major retransmission reform desired by cable and satellite companies, the draft does provide some relief, limiting joint retransmission consent negotiations, eliminating the sweeps week prohibition on signal changes and giving cable companies more set-top box flexibility by eliminating the set-top box integration ban.

The broadcast lobby may not be what it was in its heyday, but it's still got plenty of muscle, managing to quash an onerous bill provision could have kicked broadcast stations off basic cable tiers.

The item was one of several that Republican House commerce committee members considered during a Wednesday meeting to draft a bill reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (Stela), set to expire at the end of this year.

Stela allows satellite operators Dish and DirecTV to carry network affiliate stations from outside subscribers' markets when subscribers in the market can't pick up the local signals over the air. The reauthorization is important to DirecTV, which still carries distant signals for about 1.5 million homes.

Several other add-ons to the Stela bill proposed by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) are still being considered for a draft bill that might be circulated prior to a hearing that was moved to March 12 because of a Washington, D.C., snowstorm. 

But broadcasters won't likely put up a fuss over the other add-ons to a five-year extension of Stela, such as giving pay TV operators the option to negotiate carriage deals individually or jointly with TV stations that have joint sales or programming agreements. 

The hope among GOP members is that the other add-ons will be enough to appease Democrats on the committee as well as cable and satellite companies that have been pushing for major retransmission consent reform.

In the end, the draft that could be circulated next week carves around the edges of retrans reform, a lot closer to the clean reauthorization that Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, originally signaled that he favored.