WASHINGTON, DC -- NAB Executive Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Affairs Jane Mago testified today before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology today at a hearing entitled "Satellite Video 101" regarding the December 31, 2014 expiration of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act.
Below is a transcript of her testimony as prepared for delivery.
* * *
Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Jane Mago. I am Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Over the next two years, this Subcommittee, as well as your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, will consider whether certain provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, affectionately known to all of us as STELA, should be allowed to sunset.
The narrow issue before you is whether the legal framework that permits the country's two satellite providers to retransmit our stations continues to be in the public's best interest.
As the Committee begins this dialogue, your broadcast constituents ask you to be mindful of two principles that are at the core of STELA and its predecessors. First, free over-the-air LOCAL television should remain widely available to American households. Second, government should not interfere with contractual relationships that promote broadcasting's local focus.
Adherence to these principles will help ensure that the public benefits from our free over-the-air broadcast system.
The bedrock principle of the American broadcast system continues to be localism. Whether it is local news, emergency alerts, weather information, election coverage, or sports; local television broadcasters provide these services and programming for free to communities across the country. Broadcasters support charities, civic organizations and community events. And, our locally-tailored advertising provides the opportunity for your hometown businesses to promote their goods and services. Simply put, free local service is our focus. It is what differentiates American broadcast television from others around the world and from every other medium.
Broadcasters have invested billions of dollars in recent years to improve the quality and reach of their service. The digital television transition allowed us to proliferate HD programming, launch mobile dtv service, and offer multiple programming streams. These innovations enable our viewers – your constituents – to receive higher quality and more diverse programming on many platforms.
In the beginning, the satellite acts were crafted to help satellite be competitive with cable service and ensure all satellite subscribers could access network programming. There was always a concern that the service should not undermine local broadcast stations. Specifically, Congress prohibited a satellite provider from importing a network signal from a distant market to households that could receive that network's programming from a local station. These provisions were, and remain, essential to prevent diversion of a local station's viewers and reduction of the advertising revenue needed to provide vital local services.
Even as it created the distant signal license, Congress foresaw that one day, technological advances might make that license unnecessary, so it included a five year sunset provision. That premonition proved correct. Technology evolved so that satellite companies could provide each market with the market's own local stations.
Today, DISH provides this local into local service in all 210 television markets, and DirecTV in 195. Thus, the need to import distant network signals has dramatically diminished. Only a small percentage of the 34 million satellite subscribers receive network programming via the distant signal license. Indeed, over 98% of all U.S. television viewers have the option of viewing their local networks.
Accordingly, this Subcommittee may want to consider whether the public interest would be best served by allowing the distant signal license and related Communications Act provisions to sunset as Congress originally intended. Because local viewers are best served when they receive local service, every satellite and cable subscriber should receive local into local service.
Alternatively, if STELA is reauthorized, broadcasters urge a clean, minimalist approach targeted to the problem to be solved. Efforts to graft unrelated and unnecessary issues onto this narrow legislation would be inappropriate and unwise.
I thank you for your efforts to promote a vibrant local broadcast industry now and in the future, and I happy to answer any questions you may have.
The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.