House Approves Must-Pass Renewal of Satellite Television Legislation

House Approves Must-Pass Renewal of Satellite Television Legislation

The House passed H.R. 3570, the Satellite Home Viewer Reauthorization Act of 2009, yesterday. (For clickable links to that and other legislation mentioned in this article, see’s Fact Sheet on Major Space-Related Legislation in the 111th Congress.)

As Representative John Conyers (D-MI) stated during floor debate on December 2, “we must have this reauthorized without delay to avoid the immediate loss of service to tens of thousands of satellite consumers.”

As passed, the bill combines H.R. 3570 as reported from the House Judiciary Committee (H. Rept. 111-319) and H.R. 2994 as reported from the House Energy and Commerce Committee (H. Rept. 111-349). Action now moves to the Senate, where S. 1670 was reported (S. Rept. 111-98) from the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 10 and S. 2764 was ordered reported from the Senate Commerce committee on November 19.

Every 5 years, Congress needs to renew (or not) legislation that regulates the reception of television programming via satellite. It is a mixture of copyright law and telecommunications law and the issues involved are very complex, all the more so this time because the original laws were written for analog signals and television is now broadcast digitally for the most part.

Examples of the issues that surround this quincennial debate include:

  • rural lawmakers want to ensure that satellite television is as available to their constituents as it is to people in more populated areas, while satellite TV service providers argue that it is prohibitively expensive to build satellites with sufficient capacity to provide the signals in remote areas with few potential customers;
  • local network broadcast television affiliates want to protect their advertising base by ensuring that their local signals – with local advertisements – are the ones being viewed by satellite TV subscribers in their broadcast area and not signals from affiliates in other parts of the country (“distant network signals”) unless it can be proved that the subscriber cannot get the local signal over-the-air; and
  • copyright owners object to the compulsory copyright license that Congress grants to satellite television providers arguing that they should have to negotiate copyright licenses as do most other businesses (though Congress also gives cable television companies a compulsory copyright license).

For more on these issues and what this year’s legislation would do, see CRS Report R40624, Reauthorizing the Satellite Home Viewing Provisions in the Communications Act and the Copyright Act: Issues for Congress, by Charles B. Goldfarb, available through the OpenCRS project.

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