New STELA Bill, Still Not Clean

Recent news reports indicate that the Senate Commerce Committee has dropped the à la carte and Internet provisions in its STELA reauthorization bill (called STAVRA). But the bill is still not ‘clean’.

It appears that the bill still contains a provision codifying the FCC’s decision to prohibit independent TV stations from jointly negotiating retransmission consent agreements. Like the FCC rule, this prohibition would apply in all TV markets, including markets that lack effective competition among pay-TV providers. Under the bill, TV stations in these markets would be required to negotiate separately with a pay-TV operator who Congress has determined possesses monopoly market power. Pay-TV operators with monopoly market power don’t need government help in their negotiations with broadcast TV stations.

The disconnect between the statutory definition of effective competition among pay-TV operators and the bill’s provision prohibiting joint retransmission consent negotiations in all markets is why many urged Congress to adopt a clean STELA reauthorization. Addressing the convoluted framework for video regulation on a piecemeal basis increases the potential for unintended consequences and inhibits the opportunity for robust debate. The holistic approach envisioned by the #CommActUpdate is more likely to result in comprehensive deregulation and produce a level playing field in the video market.

To be sure, the most recent bill is a vast improvement over the original, and Senators Rockefeller and Thune deserve appreciation for removing the original version’s odious ‘Local Choice’ provisions. But, even the revised bill has taken the path of adding more regulation to an already overloaded video framework (albeit, while subtracting some others).

Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.

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