The Senate Commerce Committee has passed the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA), a mandatory bill to reauthorize satellite TV broadcast of distant signals, but it passed only after shedding several provisions designed to address several problems the pay TV industry is having that have little to do with satellite broadcasting.
The bill still needs to be passed by the full Senate, and then the House and Senate need to make sure their separate versions of the bill agree with each other, but those steps were probably reduced to mere formalities when the Senate Commerce Committee decided to drop amendments not found in the House version of the bill.
One non-satellite provision that was retained prevents local TV stations from colluding when negotiating retransmission consent contracts with cable operators. That was a clear victory for cable operators, especially some of the smaller ones.
Broadcasters dodged a bullet when Sens. Jay Rockefeller and John Thune withdrew a provision that would have authorized cable operators to offer broadcast channels on an a la carte basis; that was being referred to as the local choice provision.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal wanted an amendment that would have studied how the costs of sports programming affect cable bills, but that was nixed from the bill, which was often referred to until recently as STELA.
Sen. Claire McCaskill was agitating for a provision that would enforce old customer service guidelines that she said that some cable operators have drifted away from and some others have been driven away from in response to local state laws. That got dropped too.
The American Television Alliance hailed the passage of the bill out of Committee. “Today’s passage of STAVRA is a clear and convincing victory for those fighting to fix our broken retransmission consent system. When lawmakers first considered updating STELA last year, broadcasters called for letting it sunset. Then, they called for a “clean” bill. Fortunately for consumers, Congress ignored their obfuscation. STAVRA contains several significant provisions that will help curb skyrocketing retrans fees and blackouts, despite broadcasters’ wishes.”
The group was confident that Congress will address problems with retransmission consent and programming blackouts, though there is little evidence that the GOP, which controls the House, and which is predicted to take over the Senate after the elections this November, has any interest in reforming the current regulatory environment.
Filed Under: Industry regulations