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New SHVERA Draft: Satellite Carriers Could Put Local Stations HD Signals On Separate Dish

6/24/2009 1:01 PM Eastern

Satellite carriers would be able to put local TV station HD signals on a separate dish, according to a new draft of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act.

That is one of a few changes to the original June 12 draft of the bill. The latest draft still does not address getting local-into-local service to the remaining un-served markets-about 30-or delivering adjacent-market signals to so-called short or split markets. But that could all change when the bill is marked up Thursday.

The newest version says that a satellite operator can import a high-definition, distant-signal network affiliated TV station so long as it also carries the HD version-where supplied-of the local affiliate of that network. The bill requires all local stations to be carried on the same antenna, but says that the HD versions can be on a separate antenna, which was not part of the original draft.

The new draft also has additional language about how the FCC determines who qualifies for a distant signal.

The commission must come up with a new predictive model since the current one is based on a grade B analog signal that no longer exists for digital stations.

In the new draft, if a subscriber wants to challenge a determination that they are ineligible to receive a distant signal, the satellite operator and local station must pick a third party to test for signal strength. The test has to be conducted within 30 days and if it confirms that the signal does not meet the FCC's new standard, the subscriber gets their distant signal.

SHVERA essentially renews satellite operators' blanket license to retransmit distant network signals to subscribers who cannot get a sufficiently strong in-market affiliate of the same network.

House Communications Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is hoping for the satellite and local TV sides to get together on a deal to deliver local TV signals to those remaining 30 markets without local-into-local, which include his own, chiefly rural, district.

But he also wants a bill free from potentially contentious issues since the bill must be reauthorized by the end of the year to prevent the blanket license from expiring.

It is still unclear whether the short-market or split-market issues will wind up in the bill. The first is delivering adjacent-market stations to markets that lack one or more affiliates. The other is delivering them to markets that cross state lines, so that viewers in, say, Arkansas don't have to watch local TV news and sports from Tennessee.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark) has, for several years, been pushing a bill that would allow cable and satellite operators to import adjacent-market signals.

Some version of that bill could be amended to the draft. A spokesperson for Ross said they were still negotiating on the issue.

September