House panel moves ‘clean’ satellite TV bill

The House Judiciary Committee easily passed a critical satellite television law on a unanimous voice vote Thursday.

The panel avoided making any controversial changes to the existing marketplace for retransmitting broadcast programs on cable and satellite with the “clean” extension of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which came as a victory for broadcasters.

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“I realize that current licenses are not perfect for everyone, but on balance I would say that they do a good job,” intellectual property subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said.

“Not unlike many other bills, this legislation will not satisfy all stakeholders, but it should satisfy enough and most importantly, it serves the interests of our satellite-viewing constituents.”

The bill ensures that more than 1 million people living in rural areas who would not otherwise be able to pick up broadcast signals with a roof antenna can have channels beamed to them through satellite TV service. The existing law is set to run out at the end of this year but would be renewed until 2019 under the committee’s bill.

“This helps ensure that consumers in rural areas like my congressional district have the same access to news and entertainment that consumers in urban areas enjoy,” Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.  

Some reformers have seen reauthorization of the "must-pass" bill as a way to make broader changers to the way companies pay for TV programming, but those efforts have largely been quelled in the three different congressional committees that have already taken action on the issue.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a “clean” STELA reauthorization last month, and the House Commerce panel made only minor changes in its bill earlier this year.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has expressed a desire to make more robust changes to the current marketplace when his committee acts, but the panel has yet to unveil a bill.

Gordon Smith, head of the National Association of Broadcasters, praised the House panel’s “practical” move to extend the bill without changes .