Senate Adjourns Without Passing Satellite TV Extension

Senate Adjourns Without Passing Satellite TV Extension

The Senate adjourned today without passing the bill (H.R. 4691) that would have extended for one more month a number of laws that will expire on Sunday, including satellite television legislation. The satellite TV law contains copyright provisions that allow satellite TV companies (Dish Network and DirecTV) to offer certain TV programming to their subscribers under a government-set copyright fee. Other expiring laws bundled together in H.R. 4691 affect unemployment insurance, COBRA benefits, surface transportation programs, medicare payments, flood insurance, and small business loan guarantees.

The House passed H.R. 4691 yesterday, but in the Senate, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) objected to a unanimous consent request to pass the bill because it does not pay for itself. In comments on the Senate floor, Senator Bunning remarked that every member of the Senate agreed with the contents of the bill, but he could not let it pass without including offsets to pay for it.

The Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA) would have expired on December 31, 2009, but Congress passed a 2-month extension when House and Senate committees could not reach agreement on a new bill. The original satellite TV law, enacted in 1988, granted a 5-year compulsory copyright license to facilitate the emergence of the then-nascent satellite TV business. It made it easier and less expensive for satellite TV companies to obtain copyrighted television programming to transmit to their subscribers. The legislation has been renewed at 5-year intervals ever since and also involves telecommunications law provisions that are largely intended to protect the nation-wide local affiliates of the major television networks from losing their markets to satellite TV-providers. Thus the law is under the jurisdiction of both the House and Senate Commerce Committees and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. According to Multichannel News, all four committees are now in agreement on a new version of the law, renamed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act — STELA, but it has not been brought to the floor of either chamber for a vote, hence the need for an extension of the current law.

What will happen at 12:01 Monday morning when copyright owners are not required to provide their programs to the satellite TV companies under the terms set by SHVERA will be interesting to watch. The Senate will be in session on Monday, but no votes are set until Tuesday. Thus, if Senator Bunning continues to object to the unanimous consent request, nothing can be done to resolve the issue until Tuesday unless Senate Majority Leader Reid brings the Senate back into session this weekend or schedules a vote on Monday.

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