Senate satellite TV bill coming this week

This week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will unveil a bill to reauthorize the law governing satellite television, according to a committee aide.

The law — the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) — expires at the end of this year, and Leahy’s will be the first bill introduced in the upper chamber to reauthorize it.

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In the House, a Republican reauthorization bill has already moved through the Energy and Commerce Committee, where negotiations produced bipartisan support on some of the bill’s more contentious issues.

Among other things, the House STELA reauthorization bill contains a provision that would prohibit broadcasters from negotiating as a group with cable and satellite companies unless the broadcasters are owned by the same company, which broadcasters have protested.

According to people familiar with the discussions, Leahy is planning to introduce a “clean” reauthorization bill that avoids some of the more controversial issues that have bogged down others.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) — chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which also has jurisdiction over this issue — has expressed interest in broader reforms to the video marketplace, echoing some Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who expressed frustration that the House bill was too narrow.

In February, Rockefeller — along with Commerce ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications leaders Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — asked companies and public interest groups to weigh in on STELA reauthorization.

“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 letter said.

But Leahy is working on a more narrow bill that steers clear of the broader reforms that divide lawmakers and industry players, according to people familiar with discussions.

A less contentious, more narrowly focused bill will make it easier for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring it to the floor, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

At a hearing on STELA reauthorization in March, Leahy said the bill “should not be partisan or controversial. It should be a moment for the Senate to come together.”

“That is the spirit in which I will be approaching our work this year,” he said, pledging to work with Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as well as the Senate Commerce Committee.