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Dish's Dodge Proposes Distant Signal Retrans Alternative

Says Congress Should Use STELA to Affect Reforms of 'Broken' System 9/09/2013 5:28 PM Eastern

Dish executive vice president R. Stanton Dodge plans to tell Congress that not only should it renew the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), but it should do more in order to comprehensively reform the "broken" retransmission consent regime.

In prepared testimony for a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing on STELA, Dodge says that it is clear STELA should be renewed so that 1.5 million American households won't be left "without access to a full complement of network channels." A STELA renewal would continue the compulsory license that allows satellite operators to import distant network-affiliated TV stations into markets where there are none to viewers who can't get a sufficiently viewable version of the ones they do get. 

Dodge advised Congress to use STELA as a way to get at retrans reforms, saying the retrans "problem" has now "reached a crescendo, the most severe crisis since Congress decided to give broadcasters a retransmission consent right in the 1992 Cable Act."

Warning that without some congressional or FCC action, millions more screens will likely go dark every year during retrans blackouts, Dodge says that action could take a number of forms.

Those include interim carriage authority, which would permit a distant signal to be imported during retrans impasses, with the broadcaster compensated at the distant signal royalty rate. Another might be to unbundling TV station deals from other considerations--like co-owned cable channels. Both of those were part of a retrans draft bill announced Monday by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Earle MacKenzie, board member of the American Cable Association and also a witness at the hearing, agrees that Congress should step in. "Congress should prevent broadcasters from pulling signals from cable operators if retransmission consent agreements expire before new agreements have been signed," he says. "ACA has proposed adoption of a rule mandating that broadcasters and MVPDs continue to offer a broadcast station's signal to consumers after an existing retransmission consent agreement expires and while the terms of a new agreement are pending resolution of a negotiating dispute."

September