Top Dem calls for ‘rebalancing’ video law

The top Democrat on the House panel in charge of telecommunications issues wants to shift the balance of power between broadcasters and paid television companies like cable and satellite firms.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) pushed for a “rebalancing” of the federal video laws to prevent broadcast companies like ABC, NBC and CBS from being able to black out local stations during disputes with cable and satellite companies, which pay to retransmit the channels.

“I think that there needs to be, obviously, a rebalancing of the law,” she said at the annual summit of the American Cable Association, a group of small cable companies.

{mosads}“Much of the law was written to produce localism, but you see so many trends moving against that today.”

Consumers, she added, are getting “screwed and tattooed” in the arrangements allowed under current law, which can add up to billions of dollars but are “a racket.”

Eshoo is the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The subcommittee has spearheaded an overhaul of the Communications Act, which outlines rules for sending phone, Internet and television service to a person’s home, but hasn’t been updated since 1996, when the Web was still in its infancy.

The effort is likely to take multiple years, however, which Eshoo worried would take too long.

“This is not a short-term effort,” she said, noting that the 1996 law, which she played a major role in, took multiple years.

Instead, she has tried to push the issue in the Video CHOICE Act, which she introduced last year, or in negotiations to reauthorize an expiring law that allows satellite companies to beam broadcast channels to some rural subscribers.

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) is considered a “must-pass” piece of legislation, but subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has tried to limit it from being the battleground over the broadcaster-cable negotiations, known as retransmission disputes. 

The Senate Commerce Committee began its evaluation of the satellite law on Tuesday, and Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that it would be a “chance to reassess” current law. 

Eshoo hoped the issue would be settled in conference negotiations between the two chambers.

“I’m hopeful, again, that the Senate will consider this in their reauthorization of STELA and then we’ll have something to go to conference with,” she said.

Tags Anna Eshoo Communications Act Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act

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