Farmers lobbying on ‘clean’ satellite TV bill

Advocates for farmers are putting pressure on members of Congress to support a “clean” reauthorization of an expiring satellite TV law.

This month, the head of the South Dakota Farmers Union met with Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and other lawmakers to urge them not to change broader TV licensing rules while extending the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).

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Changes to current law could hurt rural customers, Doug Sombke told Thune, and shouldn’t be included in this year’s “must-pass” bill.   

“Senator Thune and many rural lawmakers are very aware of the situation and are sympathetic to the difficult position a STELA with stripped-down consumer protections could cause their constituents in rural America,” said Sombke, who is also the head of the National Farmers Union legislative committee.

STELA allows about 1 million rural TV watchers who would not otherwise be able to pick up broadcast signals with an antenna to watch programming on NBC, CBS and other channels via satellite. The existing law expires this year.

Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (R-W.Va.) has indicated he intends to use the opportunity to make more sweeping changes to the current way that cable and satellite companies pay broadcasters for their programs, but has yet to unveil legislation. Lawmakers on the panel are still hammering out language and plan to produce a bill in September, after the August recess.

Any change to the current system would be a setback for broadcasters who have vigorously defended the retransmission process.  

Sombke told Thune to follow the lead of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has authority in the area and passed a clean bill last month. 

The House on Tuesday will take up a version of the bill that makes some changes to the current marketplace but does not go as far as many reformers had hoped.