On Wednesday, March 12, the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, or STELA as it is commonly known. First passed in 1992, this legal framework was originally intended to foster competition in the pay-TV marketplace.
The current law expires at the end of 2014 and this week’s hearing has the potential to launch Congress into a contentious battle over several complex issues. Lawmakers could, for instance, pursue aggressive regulatory reforms along the lines of the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act (H.R. 3720). Back in 2012 my former NTU colleague Andrew Moylan described how the legislation would “eliminate retransmission consent and compulsory license provisions, thereby placing negotiations between television content and service providers on a more level and clearly delineated playing field.”
However, rather than implementing a major regulatory overhaul, it appears Congress will probably take a less volatile route. According to the Committee’s draft legislation, which was released late last week, , the House will likely pass a relatively “clean” STELA reauthorization bill. The Committee’s draft recommends a few changes to current law, such as allowing cable and satellite companies to negotiate rates with individual broadcasters instead of being required to conduct joint negotiations. However, the proposal avoids more controversial issues, like ending the requirement that cable companies must include network broadcasts on their basic programming tier. Taking a safer route would make legislative passage easier, but it could very well mean that debate over additional market-driven, consumer-oriented policies will have to wait until another opportunity arises. Given the current political environment, that may even mean the next Congress.