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House approves five-year extension of satellite TV bill

The House on Wednesday approved a five-year extension of a satellite TV law that would continue to allow more than 1.5 million people to receive broadcast channels through their satellite providers. 

A reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which expires at the end of the year, was approved by voice vote with a few changes.

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) introduced the bill Tuesday, along with ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee's subpanel on communications. 

The House passed a similar bill in July. But the legislation approved Wednesday was part of a bipartisan agreement with leaders on the Senate Commerce Committee. 

The extension must be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama before Dec. 31, before provisions of the law end. 

Among other things, the legislation allows satellite companies to continue to provide broadcast channels to individuals living in areas with weak local broadcast signals, totaling more than 1.5 million customers. 

The legislation would also end security standards in cable boxes. Companies like TiVo have strongly opposed the provision, which they say would allow cable companies to lock out competition by offering better access to television through their own cable boxes. 

The so-called "set-top box integration ban" would end after a year, according to the legislation, and a working group would be created to find new options.

"This well intentioned rule has not resulted in the kind of competition Congress envisioned," Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenBottom line Texas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress MORE (D-Texas) said, who had sponsored specific legislation on the issue. 

A pair of Democrats in the Senate — Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.)  — had strongly opposed the change and put a hold on similar legislation that contained the provision. 

A Senate Commerce Committee aide said Chairman Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) and ranking member John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (R-S.D.) negotiated in good faith on the measure. 

"They hope that their colleagues ultimately can support this consensus measure," the aide said.  

Markey on Wednesday said he still remains "deeply concerned" about the provision but would not block the Senate from passing it. Other than the cable box provision, he supports it. 

"Because the future of innovation and competition in the video set top box marketplace is at stake, I will be asking the FCC to use its authority to ensure that consumers have more choices in set top boxes than merely leasing their boxes from their cable company," he said in a statement after the House vote. 

The update Wednesday would ban broadcasters from teaming up during negotiations to get better deals. Satellite and cable companies must currently obtain consent from broadcasters when carrying their stations. 

The bill also requires the Federal Communications Commission to define what "good faith" negotiations are and would allow broadcasters time to comply with recent FCC media ownership rule changes.

—Updated 4:45 p.m.