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Policy

SHVERA Reauthorization Bill Set For Markup

6/23/2009 10:03 AM Eastern

The House Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee will mark up a SHVERA reauthorization bill June 25, a subcommittee spokesperson confirms.

That is the law that allows satellite companies to deliver distant TV network-affiliated TV station signals to markets that can't receive a viewable signal from their own local affiliate, or lack one altogether.

A draft circulated early last week did not deal with anything but a straight reauthorization plus some updates given the digital switch. One of those was instructing the FCC to come up with a new formula for determining what satellite subscribers qualified for distant network signals. The old test was based on a grade B analog signal contour that is no longer relevant in the digital world.

But sources said the draft is only a placeholder, and that the heavy lifting will come in a managers' amendment from House Commmunications Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.), which will be the true measure of what issues will be in the bill.

Those could include attempting to fix so-called short markets or split markets. The first are markets that lack one or more affiliates, while the second are markets whose boundaries cross state lines.

In both cases, satellite companies want to deliver stations from adjacent markets rather than ones from say Chicago or LA, arguing it makes more sense to be able to provide local news and weather. Broadcasters argue that allowing importation of those nearby signals will play havoc with the program exclusivity that is part of their business model, and with the retransmission-consent negotiations that are an increasingly important part of that model as they seek a stronger dual revenue stream in a down market.

It remains unclear whether either of those will be addressed, since Boucher has said he wants to keep the bill free of ancillary issues that could bog it down. Broadcasters are already trying to take care of the short market issue with multicast deals. For example, ABC has struck four such deals recently.

One source said that the satellite companies were suggesting that broadcasters' financial contribution could be foregoing retransmission consent in the balance of the markets without local into local--about 30 markets) but another source close to broadcasters said that was likely a nonstarter. If a retrans pass for satellite in those markets did make it into the bill, it could put some smaller cable operators serving those markets at a competitive disadvantage unless they were made part of the bill, which currently pertains only to satellite carriage.

One issue that likely will get some resolution in the bill is delivering satellite companies to carry local signals in all 210 markets, an issue high on the list of Boucher, who said last week that broadcasters and satellite companies were trying to work out a deal in which both sides share the cost of carrying those stations.

EchoStar has pointed out to Congress that in some of those markets the cost of carrying those stations isn't recoverable from the small subscriber base.

An X factor is the status of the bill backed by Rep. Mike Ross (D- Ark.), which would address the split-market issue by allowing both satellite and cable operators to import adjacent-market signals. Broadcasters have been fighting hard against the bill.

Ross's office had not returned a call at press time about whether he would introduce it as an amendment at the markup.

 

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