US satellite licences have “outlived usefulness”

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Some US regulators are seeking to end satellite’s unique ‘STELA Act’ which provides for US homes to receive signals from satellite broadcasters.

A US consumer has three ways of receiving TV signals; Over the air, by cable and by satellite (and increasingly via broadband). The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA) was just the latest in a series of laws regulating reception of satellite television services, and itself is an amendment to long-standing congressional authorisations for “retransmission” of distant signals, and was the bedrock of cable’s role, and then satellite provision from Charlie Ergen’s DISH pay-service and DirecTV.

But the current STELA provisions expire at the end of this year, and some broadcasters want the Act terminated so that they can charge fees for their signals. Cable operators want it to remain as do satellite operators.

One House member, Jared Golden (D-Me.) who represents a small community in Maine, says in a submission to the leaders of the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees, that “It is clear that the distant signal licence has outlived its usefulness”. The two committees will consider how and whether to renew the STELA Act.

Golden argues that when the ‘distant-by-satellite’ licensing portion was first introduced some 30 years ago, it was temporary, but it was now perfectly possible for local stations to be served by satellite. Satellite operators have no obligatory “must-carry” rules to carry all local TV stations, although if they choose to carry one station in a specific market, they must carry all that are available. Consequently, some satellite operators choose to bring in ‘distant’ network signals but in some cases ignore local stations.


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