Senate passes (relatively) clean STAVRA bill

A bill renewing the ability of satellite operators to take broadcast signals from far-away stations and deliver them to about 1.5 million rural subscribers without local access to various broadcast outlets has passed the Senate by voice vote.

The passage of the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA) is notable for the relative cleanliness of the bill, which had been loaded up in recent weeks with a flurry of controversial proposals.

But beyond its core provision, STAVRA only included a few riders: it bolsters the FCC's quest to regulate coordinated broadcast retransmission negotiations by stations that have different owners; and it eliminated the FCC's ban on integrated set-tops, a popular provision with cable operators.

Of course, passage of the bill yielded a flurry of responses from acronym-heavy lobbyist groups.

Broadcasters, of course, expressed relief that "Local Choice," a proposal that would mandate a la carte distribution of local stations, was removed from STAVRA.

"We are encouraged by the Senate Commerce Committee's bipartisan effort to eliminate provisions that would have hurt the public interest and cost consumers considerably more on their monthly pay-TV bill," said Robert Kenny, spokesman for National Association of Broadcasters-backed TVFreedom.org. "We now need a greater public dialogue about the future of the video marketplace, and how to best protect consumers from greedy pay-TV providers."

The bill was also stripped of numerous proposals that were highly unpopular in the cable industry, such as a proposal to expand the FCC's oversight of pay-TV customer service, and another amendment that would have delayed the integrated set-top ban.

But in its statement today, the cable-backed American Television Association played a little offense. It's message to broadcasters: you haven't heard the last of Local Choice.

"The word is out in both the House and the Senate: retransmission consent will be reformed," an ATVA statement reads. "Members from both sides of the aisle have shown a willingness to stand up to the broadcasters and seek change. We look forward to working with these members to put together a package for consideration by both chambers and the President. As we've said all along, consumers deserve video rules written in the 21st Century."

For more:
- read this Multichannel News story

Related links:
Sen. McCaskill expected to abanson attempt to add pay-TV regulation to STAVRA
Broadcasters force further dilution of STAVRA
The inside story on how Local Choice got pulled from STAVRA

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