Senate panel drops controversial TV overhaul

The Senate Commerce Committee seems to be abandoning its plans to overhaul the way that people buy broadcast TV channels like NBC and ABC.

A committee spokesperson said in a statement shared with The Hill that the panel’s “Local Choice” proposal likely won’t be included in its reauthorization of an otherwise uncontroversial satellite TV law.

“Because it is a big and bold idea, Local Choice deserves more discussion and a full consideration by policymakers, and the committee may not have time to include it as part of [the satellite law],” the spokesperson said.

Committee Chairman Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.) and top Republican John Thune (S.D.) aim to pass the satellite law — which allows about a million rural residents to get broadcast channels through their satellite subscriptions — next week, the spokesperson added, and are “continuing to work with their colleagues on Local Choice.”

In the short term, the announcement is a win for broadcasters who vocally opposed the senators’ plan, which they said would hurt consumers. If lawmakers want to upend the current system for getting TV channels, they said, they should spend time debating and negotiating it in public, instead of trying to tack it onto another bill.

National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith said on Wednesday morning that the plan would have “unintended negative consequences” for broadcasters and million of viewers.

“We thank the nearly 130,000 viewers and listeners across America who have called and e-mailed Congress on the importance of preserving free and local television,” he said in a statement.

"We remain seriously concerned with a number of provisions remaining in the Commerce Committee bill, and we look forward to working with committee members as [the bill] moves through the legislative process to ensure our viewers' continued access to lifeline local television," Smith added.

Going forward, however, the plan could serve as a framework for future attempts at reforming the market for television.

Local Choice would have allowed people to pick and choose which broadcast TV channels they wanted to include on their cable or satellite subscription. Someone could, for instance, choose to receive CBS and Fox but not NBC. They would not have to pay for the channels they don’t receive.

Rockefeller, who is retiring this year, seemed to acknowledge his plan’s uphill path forward earlier this week, but indicated that it could lay the groundwork for future work.

“It is the future,” he told The Hill on Monday. “It’s unstoppable.”

— Updated at 9:33 a.m.