Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004

October 7, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Over the past 15 years, satellite television has grown into a strong competitor with cable by offering a choice in pay television providers to consumers in rural as well as urban markets.  Where residents once were limited to a single cable operator, satellite providers now offer most consumers an alternative.  This has led to price and service competition, which is good for subscribers.  Congress supported this kind of competition when it passed the Satellite Home Viewer Act and its progeny, including the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act or SHVERA.
Now, we are to reauthorize SHVERA, once more. That means extending certain communications and copyright provisions, but it also provides us with a valuable opportunity to examine whether consumers across the country are adequately served by existing law.
A decade ago, Congress, recognizing that consumers want access to local news, weather, and community-oriented programming, established a mechanism by which satellite providers could offer local broadcast stations to residents in local markets.  This means that when a satellite subscriber in Huntington, West Virginia tunes in to CBS, PBS, ABC, FOX or NBC, they get the latest news from the state capital in Charleston, not the weather in Manhattan. They see the successes of their neighbors, and share in their struggles. They are part of a local community.
Recognizing satellite providers’ limits at the time, Congress did not require them to offer local channels to every market in the country.  Over time, this has created a division between the haves and the have-nots in which satellite companies are not providing local channels to residents in the smallest markets. 
In West Virginia, DIRECTV recently began providing local service to the Beckley area, which I applaud, but that still leaves the Parkersburg and Wheeling markets without local channels.  In reauthorizing SHVERA, I firmly believe we must examine how all consumers in even the most rural regions can gain access to local news, sports, and community programming.
Another issue of concern is consumers’ access to quality educational programming. As some broadcast television has grown coarser and less informative, public television’s mission has become more important than ever. Unfortunately, bringing public television programming to satellite subscribers has not always been easy. 
Existing copyright law makes it difficult for statewide public television networks, like those in West Virginia and 14 other states, to reach every resident of the states they serve.  I am pleased that the Senate and House Judiciary committees have addressed this issue in their reauthorization legislation.  I also understand that public television and the satellite providers continue to discuss other carriage issues and I look forward to hearing about their progress.
SHVERA reauthorization provides us with the opportunity to encourage greater competition and access to quality programming for consumers across the nation.  I thank the witnesses for coming today and welcome their thoughts on these issues.