Senator pushes ‘narrow’ bill to keep satellite TV from going dark

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill Tuesday to reauthorize the law governing the satellite television marketplace.

In a statement introducing the bill, Leahy noted the narrow focus of the bill, which he said “may not please all stakeholders.”

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“My focus is on the consumers who stand to lose access to broadcast television content in the event that Congress is unable to pass a bill by the end of the year,” he said.

The bipartisan bill from Leahy and Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reauthorizes the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) for five years.

Key provisions of that law are set to expire at the end of the year, which would keep satellite television companies from providing broadcast programming to subscribers who are unable to get the broadcast programming otherwise.

“If Congress does not act by the end of the year to reauthorize the distant signal license, approximately 1.5 million consumers will lose access to the broadcast television programming that they are currently receiving,” Leahy said.

As Congress looks to reauthorize the satellite television law, many — including Democrats in both chambers — have called for broad reforms to the video marketplace to combat rising prices for cable and satellite programming.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently passed a STELA reauthorization bill that would make some tweaks to the video marketplace, but that bill fell short of some committee Democrats’ calls for reform.

Leahy acknowledged those calls but repeated his past commitment to keep his STELA reauthorization bill narrow.

“Some would like Congress to use this legislation as a vehicle to enact significant changes to the current system that governs the relationship between broadcast television stations and distributors,” he said. 

“Others would prefer that Congress not act at all and simply allow this license to expire.”

Leahy said his bill is a “narrow approach” that “will ensure that they are not left in the dark come December 31.”