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ACA Regulatory

“Must-Pass” Legislation Provides Opportunity on Retrans Consent

Key Topics Addressed by Leading Policymakers at ACA Summit in D.C.

Some images from the 2019 ACA Summit.
Matt Polka Discusses ACA Name Change (Video)

Retransmission consent was of course a major issue covered at the 26th Annual ACA Summit in Washington, D.C. March 19 – 21. Over 350 service providers, vendors, and other industry stakeholders participated.

At the opening session on March 20, ACA President Matt Polka kicked off the event by announcing that the American Cable Association was changing its name. Now known as America’s Communication Association – ACA Connects, the rebrand reflects its’ members evolving focus as broadband continues to grow in importance to the rural consumers served by small providers.

Why 2019 Is A Key Year for Retransmission Consent

While broadband, over-the-top video, mergers and the competitive landscape were all topics at the conference, the first sessions were dominated by retransmission consent. Attendees viewed a video interview Polka conducted earlier with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). They discussed how the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) is up for renewal this year, and how it can affect retransmission consent.

Matt Polka watching his interview with Rep. Scalise
Matt Polka watching his interview with Rep. Scalise

Rep. Scalise noted his support for extending STELAR, which allows satellite providers to transmit television signals to rural consumers who would otherwise be out of broadcast range. While versions of this legislation have been in force for quite some time, it has to be renewed every five years. In addition to STELAR, Scalise has introduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, which is designed to update rules to reflect technological and marketplace changes that have occurred since the passage of the 1992 Cable Act.

Representative Scalise stated that his bill would mark a return to traditional copyright law, which allows true negotiations to take place. Small providers have long asserted that current law allows broadcasters to effectively make “take it or leave it” offers that minimize or eliminate market forces. Scalise intends to update the rules so that real negotiations can take place, while copyright holders will still receive compensation. While Scalise has introduced this bill in previous years without much progress, the attention STELAR will receive is expected to give his proposed reforms a higher profile in 2019.

This same theme was picked up in the next session, and panel discussion of experienced Capitol Hill lobbyists Rhod Shaw and Mike Chappell. The panelists explained why STELAR is considered “must-pass” legislation, even in the face of opposition from broadcasters. They noted that if STELAR is permitted to expire, up to 1 million rural customers could lose access to many or all television broadcast signals. This would result in an uproar from consumers that member of Congress could not ignore.

The panel further observed that there is bi-partisan support for STELAR, noting that Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the powerful Energy and Commerce committee that oversees broadcasting, cable, and telecommunications, also supports extension, as do key members of the Senate. Therefore, there is a strong consensus that STELAR will be extended before it expires at the end of 2019.

The bigger question is what kind, if any, reforms – such as those proposed by Rep. Scalise – might be included. In past extensions, efforts have been made to update retransmission consent and other rules. Yet progress has been modest; in the 2014 extension, for example, the panelist recalled that prohibitions against broadcaster collusion were strengthened. It is a slow and incremental process, yet STELAR offers the best chance of retransmission consent and other video access reform.

Congress is just starting to lay the groundwork for the issue. Given past experience, the lobbyists expect an extension will pass shortly before the deadline, with intensive work not beginning until after the August recess. Yet that is why small providers need to be in touch with their Representatives and Senators now, to ensure that their voices are heard as Congress addresses this legislation in the coming months.

Steve Pastorkovich is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant specializing in telecommunications, trade association operations, and public policy. LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-pastorkovich-4a94412/

Author Steve Pastorkovich

By Steve Pastorkovich

Steve Pastorkovich is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant specializing in telecommunications, trade association operations, and public policy. Reach him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-pastorkovich-4a94412/

One reply on ““Must-Pass” Legislation Provides Opportunity on Retrans Consent”

Thanks, Steve for the great report. One thing that will be interesting is whether STELAR legislation might include some sort of broadcast pass-through where broadcasters would set the rates for their programming and MVPDs would pass along those charges directly to consumers, eliminating the need for the MVPDs to be middlemen. The ACA’s Ross Lieberman describes the concept from this interview from the 2019 WEC http://www.viodi.tv/2019/03/08/unique-opportunity-for-retrans-reform-more-wec2019/

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