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Broadcasters appear to drop opposition to TV bill

Broadcasters who previously seemed ready to fight a Senate TV bill appear to have dropped their opposition, which could pave the way for easy passage.

Late on Friday, the Senate Commerce Committee circulated a new draft version of legislation to extend an expiring law allowing some rural people to watch distant broadcast TV stations on their satellite subscription.

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Lawmakers had originally included a number of provisions changing the way that broadcast, satellite and cable companies negotiate to carry channels, but many of those seem to have been dropped from the newer version of the bill.

"From what we understand, the Senate Commerce legislation appears to be much less hostile to free and local broadcasting" than the initial draft, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said in an emailed statement.

In addition to the deletion of a sweeping change to let people pick and choose which broadcast stations such as NBC or CBS they wanted on their cable package — which lawmakers dropped last week — the new version also omits language giving the Federal Communications Commission a bigger role to play during disputes over retransmission of channels and other areas.

Still, reformers seemed supportive of the new draft.

“We're pleased that, despite broadcasters' wishes, consumers will finally get some real reforms to our broken system of retransmission consent,” American Television Alliance spokesman Brian Frederick said in an email.

A spokesman with the American Cable Association, which represents smaller cable companies, told The Hill that the trade group “remains focused in the days ahead on ensuring that the provisions that most protect consumers from the broken retransmission consent marketplace remain in place, and we appreciate all of the efforts of [committee leaders] Sens. [Jay] Rockefeller [D-W.Va.] and [John] Thune [R-S.D.] to move these important provisions forward.”

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on its bill, called the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA), on Wednesday. Both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee have already passed their bills extending the satellite TV license, paving the way for easy passage by the time the existing law expires at the end of the year. 

— Last updated at 1:06 p.m.