Senators ask for industry input on video law

A bipartisan group of Senators are calling on Internet companies, cable companies and others in the video market to weigh in as Congress reconsiders a law that governs that market.

In a letter to companies and experts, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) — along with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman and ranking member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications — asked stakeholders to add their voices as Congress reauthorizes the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act.

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That bill governs, among other things, the deals that broadcasters make with satellite and cable companies. Through those deals, companies pay broadcasters for the ability to air broadcast programming. The main provisions of the bill will expire at the end of the year.

"The pending STELA reauthorization offers the Committee a chance to consider whether present law appropriately protects and promotes a video market that is responsive to consumer demands and expectations," the lawmakers said in their letter.

The senators asked stakeholders to voice any concerns about the way broadcasters negotiate with satellite and cable companies.

As Congress looks to reauthorize the bill, attention is increasingly focused on "retransmission consent," or the system that allows broadcasters to demand compensation when negotiating with cable and satellite companies. Broadcasters say the system gives them appropriate leverage as the companies providing the programming, while cable and satellite companies say the system gives broadcasters too much power.

Adding to scrutiny of the retransmission consent system is recent high-profile "blackouts," or consumers' loss of programming when cable and satellite companies fail to reach agreements with broadcasters. Some lawmakers have proposed bills that would modify the retransmission consent system to curb these blackouts.

"Some have suggested that Congress adopt structural changes to the retransmission consent system," the senators wrote to stakeholders, asking recipients to speak to whether and how Congress should reform the system.

The letter asked recipients to consider specific proposals, including one that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to intervene to prevent blackouts and one that would prohibit broadcasters from blacking-out non-broadcast programming when in a dispute with a cable or satellite provider.