WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Schurz Communications Senior Vice-President of Broadcasting Marci Burdick testified today at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act."
Below is a transcript of her testimony as prepared for delivery.
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Good morning, Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley and members of the Committee. I'm Marci Burdick, Senior Vice President of the Electronic Division for Schurz Communications, which owns eight television stations and has operating partnerships with two others. In addition, we own three cable companies and 13 radio stations.
I am testifying today on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters, where I am the Television Board Chair, and our more than 1300 free, local, over-the-air-television station members.
NAB's position on this STELA reauthorization is simple. We ask that this Committee take a hard look at whether this distant signal license continues to benefit consumers. The distant signal license exists for the benefit of the satellite companies and was enacted in a time where the technology did not exist for satellite to offer local broadcast TV stations to its subscribers. If you conclude that reauthorization of this satellite bill is warranted, NAB will support that effort. But any reauthorization should be narrow and not a vehicle for additional reforms that expand the scope of the license or undermine broadcasters' ability to serve our local communities.
In 1988, twenty-six years ago, CD's outsold vinyl records for the first time ever, Rain Man was at the top of the U.S. box office and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was trading at just over 2,000 points. Also 26 years ago, Congress enacted the first satellite television authorization, the Satellite Home Viewer Act, as a means to help spur competition for home video delivery against incumbent cable monopolies. Now, two and a half decades later, it is clear that this Committee's work was a success, as the satellite companies have evolved into the country's second and third largest pay-TV providers. How times have changed.
The original 1988 Satellite Home Viewer Act enabled satellite carriers to retransmit the signals of distant television network stations to satellite dish owners. This is commonly referred to as the section 119 license, and it is the expiring provision of STELA that is before this Committee today. At the time it was enacted, the distant signal license was needed to provide certain "unserved households" with network programming because satellite companies were unable to provide local broadcast stations to subscribers.
The distant signal license served an important purpose in 1988, when the back-yard satellite industry was just getting started; and served its purpose again when DISH and DIRECTV first launched their small-receiver services in the mid-1990s. But in 2014, when DISH and DIRECTV have achieved a size and scope that makes them dominant market leaders, the distant signal license has become a vestige of a bygone era, a time before fiber optics, compression technology and digital. Congress anticipated satellite technology would improve, which is why each of the satellite laws have included a five year sunset.
Today, over 98 percent of all U.S. TV households can view their local network affiliates by satellite. Further, as DISH has demonstrated, there are no longer technical reasons preventing any market from receiving local into-local broadcast service. And no public policy justifies treating a satellite subscriber in a local-into-local market as an "unserved households," eligible to receive distant network stations. Let's be clear, any viewer served by a distant signal is deprived of the benefits of locally-focused service. A viewer in Vermont or Iowa is not benefited by service from a Denver ABC feed instead of his local WVNY or KCRG.
Local TV stations deliver high quality local news, weather and emergency updates to all Americans. This is exactly as Congress intended. And make no mistake, this local service is one that our viewers – your constituents – continue to rely on; and one that we take great pride in continuing to improve every day. Broadcasters are continuously looking for ways to enhance our newscasts, upgrade our local weather forecasts and emergency services, and provide accurate, efficient and speedy coverage of breaking news events and their aftermath. No other medium provides the depth of coverage we provide for locally focused events, paired with the most-watched entertainment programming on prime time television.
In conclusion, if this Committee decides to once again reauthorize the distant signal license, that is an effort NAB will support. But, with that support, we ask you to take a hard look at whether this license continues to service consumers, and urge you to reject calls from the satellite providers to expand the scope of the compulsory section 119 license in order to give them a leg up in market-based retransmission consent negotiations. Moreover, we ask that we urge you to reject any attempt to add wholly unrelated or controversial provisions to a STELA bill.
Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. I am happy to answer your questions.
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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.