Senate panel launches ‘clean’ satellite TV bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday renewed a “must-pass” satellite television law that avoided changes to the way businesses negotiate to send TV programs into people’s homes.

Members of the panel said those types of discussions are best left to a broader overhaul of the nation’s communication laws. However, their reluctance to make broader reforms now could run into opposition from other lawmakers who have pledged to use the opportunity to enact change this year.  

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“I know a number of other telecommunications issues have been raised relative to this bill, but they are more appropriately handled in the context of a comprehensive communication law overhaul which the Commerce Committee is considering,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley: Mylan not going far enough with EpiPen discounts Five things to know about the Clinton Foundation and its donors Clinton calls for EpiPen maker to lower price MORE (Iowa), the panel’s top Republican.

“In the meantime, I look forward to working with the chairman and the Commerce Committee in ensuring that satellite consumers, in particular those in rural areas who need the law to get their television signals, will continue to see those signals.”

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) allows about 1.5 million people in rural areas who would not otherwise be able to pick up local broadcasting signals to get broadcast channels like CBS and ABC beamed in on their satellite service.

The 2010 law is set to expire this year, and lawmakers have committed to renewing it before time runs out.

The bill passed by the Judiciary Committee would extend the law as-is for five years. The committee also approved a minor amendment from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to make rules for transmitter sites equivalent for cable and satellite companies. 

Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee, which also has jurisdiction over STELA, have attempted to go beyond that simple extension by attaching new measures onto the law that would change the way broadcast companies negotiate with cable and satellite firms to have their channels retransmitted.

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Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP lawmakers call for overhaul of proposed corporate tax rules DEA decision against reclassifying marijuana ignores public opinion Trump op-ed counters Clinton’s pitch to Utah voters MORE (R-Utah) said that he supported reforms to the market but was willing to put off that fight until later.

“I just hope that members of this committee will begin a serious conversation about how best to phase out the current statutory licensing requirements,” he said.

Earlier this year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a version of STELA that made some minor changes to current television law.

Broadcasters have supported a “clean” STELA and praised the Judiciary Committee’s action on Thursday.

National Association of Broadcasters head Gordon Smith said the trade group will pledge its “strong support” to the bill.