Yesterday, the FCC released four different items to implement the changes enacted by Congress in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, better known as STELA. With one item addressing significantly viewed out-of-market stations, two items regarding signal prediction and measurements for the reception of DTV signals, and a Public Notice requesting comments and data for a report to Congress, the FCC has wrapped up several open issues regarding STELA. As we have written about previously, here and here (among others), in addition to extending the blanket copyright license allowing satellite television providers to deliver distant signals to "unserved" viewers unable to receive a signal from their local network affiliate, STELA raised a few additional issues that the FCC needed to address through various rule makings. With yesterday’s flurry of activity, the FCC has now addressed those issues.
With the first item, the Commission modified the significantly viewed rules that allow for the importation of distant signals in certain circumstances. The item clarifies that a satellite subscriber need only receive the local-into-local package as a precondition for that subscriber to receive a significantly viewed station, they don’t have to receive the specific local (i.e., in-market) affiliate of the same network as a precondition to receive a distant station affiliated with the same network. The item further clarifies that STELA no longer requires that equivalent bandwidth be dedicated to in-market and significantly viewed stations, so much as there is an HD format requirement. Accordingly, subscribers can only receive a significantly viewed HD signal, the satellite carrier must carry the HD signal of the local station affiliated with the same network. In reaching its decision, the Commission was cognizant of the tension between the protection of localism and Congress’s intention of achieving closer parity between the rules for satellite TV providers and cable TV providers, and it worked to reach a balance between those two sometimes competing goals. A copy of the Order is available here.