U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The Reauthorization of STELAR,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. This hearing will examine policy considerations for reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) before the law expires at the end of the year and how to ensure Americans living beyond the reach of a broadcast signal maintain access to local programming. In addition, witnesses will discuss the effectiveness of STELAR’s good faith requirement and other targeted video marketplace reforms Congress should consider in the next STELAR reauthorization.
- Ms. Emily Barr, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Graham Media Group and Chairwoman, Television Board, National Association of Broadcasters
- Mr. Denny Law, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Golden West Telecommunications
- Mr. Jonathan Schwantes, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumer Reports
- Mr. Robert Thun, Senior Vice President of Content and Programming, AT&T
- Mr. J.C. Watts, Chairman and Co-Founder, The Black News Channel
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*Note: Witness added 10/22/19
Chairman Roger Wicker
In June, this committee held a hearing on the state of the television and video marketplace. At that time, we heard from witnesses about how consumers are living in this great age of television. Today, Americans have more choices and access to video content and programming than ever before. Through expanded internet connectivity and technological advancements, millions of households now subscribe to video-on-demand and over-the-top services. Americans also consume more and more hours of mobile streaming and digital programming. Yet, despite these developments and the maturation of the digital video marketplace, hundreds of thousands of Americans still cannot receive traditional over-the-air broadcast television in their homes.
For the past 30 years, STELAR and previous iterations of the law have provided a means for Americans living beyond the reach of a broadcast signal to receive local programming. Families in rural parts of the country – in addition to those traveling or living in recreational vehicles, long-haul truckers, and tailgaters – have been particularly reliant on STELAR to access broadcast television. STELAR’s distant signal license has provided communities that lack a major network affiliate – such as ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox – to receive broadcast programming from another market through their satellite video provider. This ensures that consumers can (at a minimum) access national news as well as other programming that is relevant to the public interest.
At the end of this year, absent congressional action, STELAR will expire, and many Americans could immediately lose access to broadcast television stations. STELAR’s other significant requirement that broadcasters and cable operators negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith will also expire – absent action by the Congress. Although I recognize that some believe STELAR has largely outlived its original purpose and usefulness, it is my view that it remains a critical law for preserving access to video services for those that typically find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.
As the committee prepares to reauthorize STELAR and work with our colleagues in the Judiciary Committee to extend the section 119 distant signal license, I hope witnesses will discuss the appropriate length of time for the law’s renewal. In doing so, witnesses may want to address the unique needs of consumers in RVs and short markets as well as long-haul truckers and tailgaters. In addition, I ask today’s witnesses to discuss how to ensure that those individuals can maintain permanent access to broadcast programming.
The Congress needs to know whether consumers will immediately lose access to certain television channels if STELAR expires. Witnesses should also address whether the expiration of STELAR would increase prices for consumers to access broadcast programming, and how ending the law would impact the bottom line for broadcasters – both local affiliates and networks – as well as satellite and cable television providers.
Today is also an opportunity for witnesses to discuss the effectiveness of the good faith requirement. I hope witnesses address whether Congress should consider modifications to this requirement to further achieve its intended purpose in establishing fairness in retransmission consent negotiations.
For example, earlier this year C Spire’s video service in Mississippi was granted a market modification by the Federal Communications Commission. Under this market modification, C Spire is authorized to provide local programming to the City of Diamondhead in Hancock County, Mississippi. Diamondhead is a part of the New Orleans Designated Market Area.
Since the market modification petition was granted, however, C Spire has filed a good faith complaint against a local broadcast affiliate in Mississippi for refusing to provide its signal to Diamondhead residents unless C Spire also carries the New Orleans local affiliate station. I understand this situation involves contracts between a broadcast network and affiliates, but I question whether requiring a video provider to carry two of the same affiliate stations following the approval of a market modification from the FCC embodies the spirit of the good faith requirement.
In addition to these issues, I look forward to hearing from witnesses about other targeted reforms this committee might consider in reauthorizing STELAR to ensure that the next iteration of the law promotes competition, innovation, and consumer choice in the video marketplace.
Thank you again to our witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Emily BarrPresident and Chief Executive Officer, The Graham Media Group and ChairwomanTelevision Board, National Association of Broadcasters
Mr. Denny LawChief Executive Officer and General ManagerGolden West Telecommunications
Mr. Jonathan SchwantesSenior Policy CounselConsumer Reports
Mr. Robert ThunSenior Vice President of Content and ProgrammingAT&T
Mr. J.C. WattsChairman and Co-FounderThe Black News Channel