Walden unveils bill to change TV market

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled legislation Thursday that would reauthorize and update a law that governs the video marketplace.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, released Thursday a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which expires at the end of this year.

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In addition to reauthorizing STELA for five years, the bill would end a federal security equipment requirement for set-top boxes and would treat broadcasters and cable and satellite companies more equitably when they negotiate over compensation for programming during the weeks that ratings information is collected.

The bill would also allow cable and satellite companies to reject broadcasters' joint negotiations in favor of negotiations with individual broadcasters. Critics of the broadcast industry say the joint negotiations unfairly increase broadcasters' leverage over cable and satellite companies as they negotiate with broadcasters for the ability to air broadcast programming.

"I look forward to working with members of the subcommittee as we continue this thoughtful process and firmly believe we can get this across the finish line before the clock expires on many of STELA’s provision at the end of the year," Walden said in a statement introducing the bill.

Some members of the committee have pushed for measures that would further change the video marketplace, including ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who introduced legislation last year that would, among other things, allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene in disputes between broadcasters and satellite or cable companies to prevent blackouts for customers.

According to people familiar with the committee's plans, the bill initially had a provision that would have allowed cable and satellite companies to sell basic programming packages that did not contain certain broadcast channels. According to reports, that provision was dropped earlier this week after it garnered heavy backlash from broadcasters.

Walden said he intends to address other issues with the video marketplace as his committee considers updates to the Communications Act, which governs the FCC and the industries it regulates.

"Our video marketplace demands rules that reflect the modern communications marketplace, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to address those issues in our work to update the Communications Act," he said.

"As we consider those larger issues, however, we must not lose sight of the looming year-end deadline for action on STELA and the 1.5 million households whose satellite television service would suffer if we fail to act," he said.

Walden's committee will hold a hearing on STELA next week.