Rockefeller: STELA Reauthorization Must Advance the Public Interest

April 1, 2014

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller today issued prepared remarks for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet hearing titled, "Reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA)."

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

I want to thank Senator Pryor for convening today’s Subcommittee hearing on the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, or STELA. I also want to applaud him for his leadership of the Communications Subcommittee and the thorough work he has done to help the Committee members understand the state of the communications marketplace, and the pressing issues facing consumers and the companies that serve them.

Today, the Subcommittee considers once again the reauthorization of key statutes that promote competition in our video marketplace. Over the past 20 years, satellite pay TV providers have extended pay television service to consumers in rural areas which did not have such service previously. Across the country, they have offered consumers an alternative to their local cable provider. Today, DirecTV and Dish Network have become the second and third largest national pay TV providers.

STELA and its predecessors, along with other necessary competitive protections from the 1992 Cable Act, have been essential to satellite’s growth. Congress recognized early on that it must act to foster competition and enhance consumer choice in the video market. Now, we are faced once again with the question of whether to reauthorize key elements of STELA.

Let me be clear: I believe that we would do consumers a disservice if we failed to reauthorize STELA:

  • Approximately 1.5 million satellite subscribers continue to rely on STELA for access to broadcast television;
  • Hundreds of thousands of homes in West  Virginia subscribe to satellite television; and
  • Every pay TV consumer benefits from the protection afforded by the law’s requirement that broadcast, cable, and satellite negotiate in good faith.

The pending reauthorization also gives the Committee a chance to reassess whether the overall video marketplace operates to the benefit of consumers and competition. Since the last time we addressed STELA, this Committee has held nearly half a dozen hearings  exploring the video marketplace. The record from those hearings shows that several aspects of the present video market  could be reformed. And as you know, I think it is long since time that to explore what we can do to foster a more consumer-centric future for video, particularly through online video distribution.

There are some who believe that STELA is not the appropriate time to address these issues. They argue that such an examination is better left for some future day, as part of a mythical rewrite of the Communications Act, which always seems to be right around the corner. I know there is a pent up desire among the Committee members to fully debate and address these issues – issues that directly affect all of our constituents.

I have been part of this Committee for three decades and participated in many debates over video policy. Although the final path for the STELA reauthorization has not been determined, one of the things that I have learned from my tenure is that the Committee should seize the opportunities that present themselves, not take a pass for another day. That future day may not come.

Dealing with these issues will require the Committee to take a close look at today’s video market, ask tough questions, and ultimately we may have to make hard choices that may upset incumbent interests. For me, the touchstone will always be whether the Committee’s STELA reauthorization legislation advances the public interest. I am confident that this Committee will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize STELA. And as we have with past STELA reauthorizations, we will work closely with Senator Leahy and the Judiciary Committee. I thank the witnesses for coming today and welcome their thoughts on the STELA reauthorization.