By Kim Hart - 02/11/10 03:57 PM EST
The Senate's jobs bill circulating around Washington is now the vehicle for the much-delayed renewal of DISH Network's and DirecTV's licenses to reach 1.7 million people.
If passed by the Senate, the bill would renew satellite providers' ability to import distant TV network affiliates to viewers who can't receive their local affiliates through broadcast or cable service.
Satellite companies' right to send these signals to customers were set to expire at the end of 2009. But in December, Congress extended The Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA) by 60 days. The satellite licenses have to be reauthorized by Congress every five years.
Congress is running out of time to approve the provisions in the jobs bill. If the licenses expire, about 1.7 rural satellite customers could lose access to programming from the likes of NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX.
The current version of the bill would allow DISH Network to once again offer out-of-town signals to customers.
DISH lost that right when a court ruled it overstepped the law by sending distant signals to homes already served by local signals. Under the proposed legislation, DISH would be able to once again deliver distant signals in exchange for agreeing to deliver local TV signals in all 210 markets around the country. (DISH currently delivers local signals in around 180 markets.)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and other Republicans on the panel, had initial concerns with making that deal with DISH, leading to the legislation's delay.
The current bill also allows viewers in smaller markets to receive missing networks from an adjacent market. Previously, DISH and DirecTV were not allowed to offer distant signals to those customers.
The negotiations between broadcasters, satellite providers and Congress have been ongoing over the past year. K Street and Congressional sources say all parties are, for the most part, satisfied with the compromises reached in the Senate bill.
Citing "SHVERA fatigue," the sources said they simply want to put the law's renewal behind them.
The Senate still plans to plow ahead with talks on the jobs bill Thursday, but a vote is unlikely. Congress will be in recess next week.
That leaves just one week for the Senate and House to approve the jobs bill before the satellite licenses expire at the end of the month.