Congress and the flawed STELA Legislation

Congress fails to fix STELA Legislation in 2020

I significantly increase my efforts to get Congress to act responsibly

27 July 2020: I mailed letters to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee, other influential members of the U.S House of Representatives, Arizona Broadcasters Association, Lester Holt at NBC News, KVOA TV, and other interested organizations. The two House Committees are responsible for the flawed STELA legislation. The letters explained that local lives were being put at risk and that local businesses were being harmed. The letters also pointed out that the flaws in the STELA legislation diminished relevance of "local TV", especially in times of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Bighorn Fire. I requested immediate action to correct the flawed STELA legislation.

29 July 2020: The San Manuel Miner (local newspaper) published my Letter to the Editor "Town Hall Event Fails to Address Tucson vs. Phoenix TV in Southeastern Pinal County".

2 August 2020: I submitted the following email (via to Arizona Senators Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, and Congressman Tom O'Halleran.

Citizens rely on the established National TV media for trusted National and International news and their local TV stations for trusted Local news, especially in times of local emergencies. Unfortunately, in many locations around the country, Congress has prohibited receiving local (nearest) TV stations by many citizens through the STELA Federal legislation which defines the concept of "Designated Market Areas" (DMA). One of the consequences of this flaw in the legislation is to reduce the relevance of "local TV". As has been so dramatically demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Bighorn Fire in southern Arizona, the flaw puts lives at risk and harms local businesses. If Congress had acted in the years since 2013 when I began reporting the FCC DMA flaw to Congress and the FCC, southern Pinal County lives would not continue to be put at risk and local businesses in both Pinal and Pima counties would not continue to be harmed. With wildfire season fully underway in Arizona and the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of going away, the next crisis could be weeks, days, or even hours away. Congress needs to act responsibly NOW, not in years, to correct this dangerous and unfair Federal legislation.

3 August 2020: I mailed letters to the National Association of Broadcasters and the Arizona Cactus Coalition requesting their support for "local TV" and asked them to request that Congress enact an immediate change in the STELA legislation.

5 August 2020: At my suggestion, Pinal County Supervisors Anthony Smith and Pete Rios mailed a letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requesting a change in the STELA legislation to allow southern Pinal County satellite TV customers to receive Tucson TV stations. I emailed a courtesy copy of my letter to the House Committee to Congressman O'Halleran's Senior Legislative Assistant. I included a copy of my San Manuel Miner newspaper "Letter to the Editor" that discussed the ongoing failure of Congress to support local citizens. I asked Congressman O'Halleran's Senior Legislative Assistant if the STELA Act came up for reauthorization in 2019. If so, what statements did Congressman O'Halleran make to the Committee in 2019 to address the impacts to his District? Why did the Committee reject his statements and fail to correct the legislation? On 6 August I received a lengthy response from the Senior Legislative Assistant describing Congressman O'Halleran's comments that were included in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government report to accompany the Fiscal Year 2021 spending bill. However, there was no mention of an obvious path leading to an imminent solution nor what comments Congressman O'Halleran made during the STELA reauthorization in 2019.

7 August 2020: I mailed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence (former Indiana Governor) asking for his assistance to get Congress to enact an immediate solution. I noted that the situation here is like living just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana, but being told by Congress that Louisville, Kentucky (120 miles south of Indianapolis) was your only choice for "local" TV. Would he tolerate that? No. And neither do citizens in southern Arizona.

On 7 August I received an email from Congressman O'Halleran. It was in response to my 2 August email sent from the web site. The response talked about the Congressman's support for "public broadcasting" but did not directly address the flawed STELA legislation and FCC DMA.

17 August 2020: I mailed letters to Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, Arizona Senators Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Senate Candidate Mark Kelly, Arizona House of Representatives Candidate Tiffany Shedd, Arizona State Legislators Thomas Shope, David Cook, and Frank Pratt, and State Representative Candidate Sharon Girard to advise them of the issue and to ask for their support.

26 August 2020: I mailed a letter to KUAT, the PBS TV station in Tucson, asking for their support.

9 September 2020: I mailed letters to Ed Gillespie, AT&T (DirecTV) Senior Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs, and Erik Carlson, Dish TV President and Chief Executive Officer. I asked for their support and noted that they have a financial stake in lobbying Congress to fix the flawed STELA legislation since there are residents who refuse to become their customers as they will not provide the Tucson TV stations.

14 September 2020: I submitted the following email (via to Senators McSally and Sinema, and Congressman O'Halleran.

Could an "election security" incident impact voting in southern Pinal County, Arizona, due to the STELA ban on receiving local Tucson TV stations 30 miles away? For 7+ years I have been working to get Congress to fix the FCC DMA regulation that puts local lives at risk and harms local businesses. But even the recent COVID-19 pandemic and Bighorn Fire crises have not been enough motivation for Congress to fix the flawed legislation. Would an "election security" incident be enough? Congress must not wait to find out. Fix STELA legislation immediately before the next crisis, which could be weeks, days, or even hours away. All American citizens deserve and need to be allowed to receive their nearest local TV stations, not stations four times further away. As Congress considers economic relief for businesses through the Local News and Emergency Information Act, S.3718 and H.R. 6897, Congress must NOT neglect to immediately fix the flawed, dangerous, and unfair STELA legislation.

In response to my 14 September email, on 16 September 2020 I received the following detailed explanation from Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema explaining WHY the legislation is what it is.

Thank you for contacting me about reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act. I always appreciate hearing from Arizonans about issues facing our state and country. It is important that we have conversations about topics that matter to you and your family, and I hope you will continue to reach out to me and share your perspectives and suggestions.

Today, consumers can access television programming through an antenna, from cable or satellite providers, or over the internet. Before the advent of the internet, Congress passed a series of laws to regulate the retransmission of broadcast television by cable or satellite companies, also known as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). Initially, these laws ensured rural consumers, who were out of range from their local broadcaster, could still access television programs by subscribing to an MVPD.

In 1992, Congress passed the Cable Television Protection and Competition Act, which required MVPDs to get permission from broadcasters before retransmitting their programming and allowed broadcasters to charge a fee for the retransmission. This exchange is known as retransmission consent. When broadcasters and MVPDs can't come to an agreement, broadcasters are allowed to withhold their channels, leading to program blackouts for MVPD customers. Since 1992, Americans have experienced an increase in blackouts and higher retransmission consent fees. In 2018, retransmission fees reached a record high of $10 billion.

In 2010, Congress passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which renewed two laws, the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 and the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004, that govern copyright and communications law related to retransmission consent agreements. Congress last reauthorized STELA in 2014, extending the law through December 31, 2019. The 2014 reauthorization included a requirement that companies negotiate retransmission in good faith, and extended the authority for satellite companies to provide out-of-market broadcast programming to underserved areas. According to the Congressional Research Service, approximately 1.5 million satellite customers could lose access to their current stations if STELA is not reauthorized.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced S. 2789, the Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act of 2019, on November 6, 2019. If enacted, this legislation would reauthorize STELA through 2024. Supporters of reauthorizing STELA argue the law helps consumers by curbing rising retransmission fees and lowering costs, requiring good faith in negotiations over retransmission agreements, and providing content to consumers in rural areas. Opponents contend that STELA should not be reauthorized because it favors satellite providers who push out-of-market programming over local programming. Opponents also believe we no longer need STELA to drive competition due to new technologies on the market, such as online streaming services. S. 2789 was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, where it may be considered.

On December 19, 2019, Congress passed H.R. 1865, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. In addition to funding large portions of the federal government through September 30, 2020, this legislation includes several provisions related to STELA, including a permanent extension of the good faith requirement during retransmission negotiations and permanent reauthorization of licensing for MVPDs providing out-of-market programming to designated markets by May 31, 2020. This provision means truckers, recreational vehicle drivers, and Americans living in short markets will have continued access to their broadcast programming. I voted in favor of H.R. 1865.

Modern telecommunications have become an invaluable part of our lives. Affordable quality telephone, cable, and internet services are the building blocks for creating economic opportunities and lowering the cost of health care. As a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a solution that will ensure Arizonans can access the telecommunications services they need without the inconvenience of programming blackouts or the burden of inflated service prices. I will continue to work with members of both parties to craft reasonable, commonsense intellectual property laws that encourage new ideas and promote economic growth.

While useful information, Senator Sinema's response did not address the fact that lives are being put at risk and local businesses are being harmed. And like some of her colleagues in Congress, she has the false belief that using the Internet to "receive" local TV programming is a viable solution to the flawed, dangerous, and unfair STELA legislation.

17 September 2020: To increase the public outreach of my efforts and the continued failure of Congress to act, I posted this "Congress and the flawed STELA Legislation" blog.

18 September 2020: I received a phone call from a gentleman at Dish TV Corporate Case Management in Colorado in response to my letter of 9 September. He acknowledged all the work I had done since 2013 and agreed that the regulation is illogical. He confirmed that the same issue occurs in many locations in the United States. He suggested that a lawsuit might be the only way to get action. That is something I had already begun to consider. He described the process that set up the FCC DMAs with Nielsen, the FCC, the providers, the TV stations, and the TV networks (which I already knew). He said the re-broadcasting contracts that are in place with the stations and networks would have to be modified. That would take time and money. He also said that the Nielsen company would also have to agree to any changes. He appreciated what I was trying to do to improve the situation for everyone. I thanked him for him responding to my letter. Although he didn't know what, if anything, Dish TV could do at this point, he did offer to be available if I wanted to request further assistance.

21 September 2020: I received a very nice letter from the CEO of KUAT PBS station in Tucson in response to my letter of 26 August. He agreed with my points. He will bring up the issue at the next University Licensee Association to see if other university owned stations have similar concerns. He will also contact their Capital Hill lobbying group. He said he would let me know once he hears back from both groups.

23 September 2020: I mailed Letters to the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. I described the issue and asked if the ACLU would be interested in leading legal action to get Congress to act. I pointed out that the STELA legislation and FCC "Designated Market Area" assignments prohibit some citizens from receiving the nearest TV stations via satellite TV providers, yet it allows cable TV providers to offer those same stations to their customers living in the same area. Could the prohibition on receiving local TV via satellite while allowing it via cable along with the harm being done to citizens and businesses make that aspect of the STELA legislation unconstitutional?

Looking at Legal Options

Main Flawed STELA Legislation page

Copyright ©2020 Michael L. Weasner /