Dems and GOP Reach Compromise on Reauthorization of Satellite Bill

House commerce expected to approve on Thursday

A bill to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, which ensures that 1.5 million rural cable subscribers will be able to receive programming from all the TV networks, has a good chance of getting voted favorably out of the House commerce committee on Thursday.

The bill, which would reauthorize what is known as Stela for five years, now has bipartisan support, according to communications and technology subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has been working with ranking member Anna Eshoo (R-Calif.) to resolve differences over the bill.

Reauthorization of Stela (it expires at the end of 2014) is critical to DirecTV, which relies on the bill to deliver out-of-market network-affiliated TV stations to 1.5 million subscribers.

With an election bearing down on lawmakers, the number of days left in Congress to get anything done is limited, putting extra urgency to move the bill forward before it expires. The House judiciary committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on the copyright portion of the bill.

"It's imperative that we get this legislation to the president's desk before the end of the year, and I thank ranking member Anna Eshoo and other members of the committee for their hard work and collaboration to help make this happen," said Walden. "I look forward to advancing this 'must pass' legislation this week and its speedy approval by the full House."

The bill had a few goodies tacked on, like prohibiting TV stations from jointly negotiating retransmission-consent negotiations and lifting the cable box integration ban, but it was a provision that would delay the Federal Communications Commission from going ahead with its new rule to limit TV joint sales agreements that put the two sides of the aisle at odds. 

The compromise that both parties agreed to gives TV stations more time to unwind joint sales agreements under the FCC's just-passed new rules until the FCC concludes its 2010 quadrennial review of media ownership rules, expected in 2016.

The full committee is also scheduled to vote on the Dotcom Act (for Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters), a bill that will prohibit the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relinquishing its limited oversight over the Internet domain name system until the government (via the comptroller general) submits a report to Congress. The bill is in response to the NTIA's announcement that it could relinquish its limited role over a key function of the Internet by September 2015.