Jerry Nadler and Senate GOP Push Satellite TV Reform that Hurts Rural America

Jerrold Nadler (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
Susan Walsh / Associated Press

The fiscally conservative think tank Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has condemned a proposed change to satellite TV law backed by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) that would sunset a key protection for consumers in rural red-state America.

The sunsetting provision is part of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act (STELLAR), which connects predominantly rural households using satellite TV to broadcast TV networks.

Under new proposals introduced by Rep. Nadler, just one provider, DISH, would be licensed to serve satellite customers using distant signals. CAGW has condemned this as “creating a virtual monopoly.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and the Senate GOP leadership look set to support Rep. Nadler’s proposals when they come before the Senate, according to Politico. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) says the reform has the support of the GOP leadership, with sources saying GOP Senate leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also on board.

An industry source also told Bloomberg Government that “the Senate’s efforts are based on the Judiciary bill, sponsored by that panel’s chairman, Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)”. This comes as Nadler intensifies his efforts to impeach President Trump.

The proposal is backed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a lobby group representing major TV networks. Rep. Nadler is a major recipient of donations from the TV and movie industry — his top donor last year was Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, and partially owns ESPN and A&E.

In a press release, copied below, CAGW President Tom Schatz condemned the proposed changes as risking the TV coverage of consumers in isolated parts of the country.

Unless Congress acts, the law will sunset on December 31, 2019. As part of this process, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 5140, the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019. Unfortunately, this bill fails to build on the original intentions of STELAR to serve otherwise unserved customers. Instead, the bill attempts to improve local service to viewers but could have the opposite effect.

H.R. 5140 would allow the distant signal license to expire after just six short months in certain markets for certain customers, based solely on the company providing them services. The expiration places hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk of losing access to national broadcast TV programming. These consumers are largely in rural areas and rely on satellite because they have been left behind – such as in short markets, in which broadcasters do not provide local network programming, and in areas where broadcasters have failed to provide an over-the-air signal. Given the current offerings of the two satellite providers, consumers in these markets will either have to go without certain broadcast network television, or seek programing from DISH, the only provider this legislation would currently permit to serve satellite customers using distant signals. Creating a virtual monopoly for one company for certain customers does nothing to protect consumers.

The bill also fails to reform the existing retransmission consent regime, leaving consumers even more vulnerable. Broadcasters, who have a local monopoly on nationwide content, continue to charge higher and higher retransmission fees at the expense of consumers. These fees have cost television providers and their consumers $11.7 billion in 2019, a 5,000 percent increase from 2006. When agreements are not reached, consumers experience mass-channel blackouts. There have been more than 230 television blackouts this year, making this the worst year for blackouts on record.

Users of distant signal satellites are primarily located in remote, rural parts of the country that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016, as well as RV enthusiasts and commercial truckers. Other consumers include those in short markets, where broadcasters have failed to launch channels — these consumers have no option but to use distant signal satellite.

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Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.

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