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Section-by-Section Summary of Senate Commerce Committee’s
Satellite Home Viewer Extension and
Rural Consumer Access to Digital Television Act of 2004
The Senate Commerce Committee’s Satellite Home Viewer Extension and
Rural Consumer Access to Digital Television Act of 2004 generally reauthorizes provisions of the Communications Act that allow providers of satellite service to retransmit the broadcasts of television stations to satellite subscribers. Following is a section-by-section summary of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Staff Working Draft of the bill as it stood at 3:00 p.m. on July 13, 2004:
Section 1 contains the Short Title and Table of Contents
This Section extends the retransmission consent provisions of Section 325 of the Communications Act to December 31, 2009. The provisions are set to expire December 31, 2004.
Section 3 prohibits the division of local stations between two dishes starting 180 days after the bill’s enactment. Two-dish local markets in existence as of July 1, 2004 must be phased out on the following schedule –
Two-dish service will only be allowed:
§ in 33 markets 180 days after the bill’s enactment;
§ in 28 markets by December 31, 2005;
§ in 14 markets by December 31, 2006; and
§ complete phase out by December 31, 2007.
Digital stations may be provided by means of a dish separate from that for analog stations, but all digital stations must be provided on a single dish as well.
There is a penalty for failure to phase out according to the schedule; the penalty is assessable under Section 503( of the Communications Act (which currently sets forth a maximum penalty of $11,000 per violation). The bill specifies that each market in which a satellite carrier is out of compliance is considered a separate violation, and each day of a continuing violation constitutes a separate violation.
This provision directs the FCC to develop a method for identifying households unserved by digital signals. Within two years, the FCC must (1) determine the appropriate signal standard for determining eligibility for distant digital signals; (2) develop a predictive model for presumptively determining the ability of individual locations to receive digital signals in accordance with the signal standard adopted by the FCC; and (3) establish waiver and objective verification standards.
Until the FCC makes the aforementioned determinations, the bill contains a provision that allows satellite carriers to provide distant digital signals on an interim basis. During this period, satellite carriers may import a distant digital signal to:
§ A household that is eligible to receive an analog distant signal, i.e., an analog unserved household; or
§ After December 31, 2004, a household that is outside the analog Grade B contour of a network station that also has its license for a full power DTV facility, and is also located in a local market where there is a network station not broadcasting in digital; or
§ After December 31, 2004, a household that is outside the analog Grade B contour of a network station that also has its license for a full power DTV facility, and is also outside the city of license of a station that is broadcasting in digital under a low power STA.
There is an exception to this interim authority if the household is in a market where the local network station has failed to build full power DTV facilities due to “noneconomic circumstances beyond its control.”
Low power digital stations will be required to notify satellite carriers within 48 hours of filing with the Commission a license application for full power facilities, and stations not broadcasting in digital must similarly notify satellite carriers within 48 hours of filing an application for a DTV STA. Within 60 days of receiving such notice, satellite carriers must provide the network station with a list of all subscribers receiving distant digital signals under interim authority whose service will have to be terminated due to the station’s commencement of low power or full power digital service.
Interim service to a household must be terminated within 120 days after the date on which the satellite carrier is notified that the household ceases to be an unserved household with respect to digital signals.
Satellite carriers will be required to give distant digital signal subscribers clear, conspicuous prior notice that the distant digital service provided under the interim authority must be terminated within 120 days after the date the subscriber becomes ineligible for the service.
Satellite carriers must also provide networks with lists of subscribers receiving distant digital signals within 120 days after the Commission has completed development of the method for identifying digital unserved households.
Failure to provide networks with “complete” lists of subscribers receiving service under the interim authority provided by this section, and failure to cease distant digital transmissions within 120 days of the date a subscriber becomes ineligible, will subject satellite carriers to enforcement action for each household in question. Each household at issue is considered a separate violation, and each day of a continuing violation is a separate violation.
The bill specifies that a satellite carrier may retransmit analog and digital signals of no more than two stations to each unserved household per day.
The bill specifies that the current statutory definition of “unserved household” applies in the analog context. “Unserved household” in the digital context is defined by reference to the new Section 339(d) of the Communications Act (which directs the FCC to develop a standard for identifying digital unserved households).
Section 5 makes the good faith retransmission consent bargaining requirements reciprocal, so that the good faith obligation is now imposed on MVPDs, not only on broadcasters. The good faith bargaining obligation is extended from the current January 1, 2006 sunset to January 1, 2010.
This provision precludes subscribers who are capable of receiving local signals via satellite, as well as subscribers who are predicted to receive a signal of an intensity better than whatever standard is in effect (currently Grade B intensity) from the network at issue, from demanding a signal strength test under 47 U.S.C. § 339©(4). Such subscribers may, however, request a test at their own expense.
Section 7 makes Section 631 of the Communications Act, which sets forth requirements for the protection of cable subscriber privacy, applicable to DBS operators.
This section directs the FCC to apply Section 317 of the Communications Act to DBS. This provision of the Act deals with sponsorship identification, and provides that any matter that is broadcast in exchange for payment must be accompanied by an announcement that the matter was paid for or sponsored by the paying entity.
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Arizona Senator John McCain
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens
California Senator Barbara Boxer
Florida Senator Bill Nelson
Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye
Illinois Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback
Louisiana Senator John B. Breaux
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe
Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry
Mississippi Senator Trent Lott
Montana Senator Conrad Burns
Nevada Senator John Ensign
New Hampshire Senator John Sununu
New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg
North Dakota Senator Byron L. Dorgan
Oregon Senator Gordon Smith
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden
South Carolina Senator Ernest F. Hollings
Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Virginia Senator George Allen
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell
West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV
Section 9 includes aircraft and “recreational vessels” (i.e., certain types of boats) within the definition of unserved households, making such craft eligible for distant signal service. Such service is currently allowed to recreational vehicles and commercial trucks.
Contact: Jack Finn (202) 224-6244
Cell: (702) 290-1487
ENSIGN BILL WILL IMPROVE DIGITAL TELEVISION ACCESS FOR NEVADA
July 13, 2004
Washington, D.C. – A bill introduced today by Senator John Ensign will require satellite providers to supply customers that cannot receive an over-the-air digital signal from CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX with a distant digital network signal by satellite.
“My goal is to make sure consumers are not denied digital television based on where they live or whether the digital conversion has been completed in their area,” Ensign said. “People outside major market areas, like those in rural Nevada, should not be left behind in the digital television revolution.”
Ensign’s bill, the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Rural Consumer Access to Digital Television Act of 2004, includes strong protections against abuse and tough penalties to ensure that satellite providers comply with a fair and equitable process by which all Americans can take part in the digital transition in a realistic timeframe. Local broadcasters who have been unable to turn up a full-power digital signal due to circumstances beyond their control will not be unfairly penalized.
The bill will also mandate that satellite providers phase out their use of two-dish markets, the first customers seeing results in 6 months. Currently, customers in some markets need a second dish to receive all local stations and, since many customers choose not to receive a second dish, many stations are not seen.
“If we expect consumers to participate in the digital transition by purchasing new digital televisions, Congress must provide access for consumers to high-quality digital programming,” said Ensign. “The bill I’ve introduced today will help make sure they are protected.”