WASHINGTON, D.C. — Graham Media Group President and CEO Emily Barr, chair of the NAB Television Board, testified this morning at U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled, “The Reauthorization of STELAR.”
Below is her testimony as prepared for delivery.
Good morning Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell and members of the committee. My name is Emily Barr and I am the president and CEO of Graham Media Group. As the television board chair of the National Association of Broadcasters, I am testifying today on behalf of the free and local broadcast television stations serving our hometowns.
Local broadcasters continue to believe that STELAR should expire at the end of this year as Congress intended. Not only have its provisions become unnecessary and ineffective, but today STELAR affirmatively harms viewers who are being denied access to their local television stations as the result of its continued reauthorization.
Your constituents turn to our local broadcast stations for crucial weather information, to learn how to help neighbors in need, and to watch trusted news anchors and reporters deliver unbiased accounts of what is happening in our hometowns. Local broadcasting is the critical electronic glue that binds every community together, keeping them informed and safe. This is our industry’s North Star.
Unfortunately, STELAR denies some viewers these benefits. When enacted 30 years ago, STELAR’s distant signal license successfully enabled the nascent satellite companies to better compete with cable’s monopoly by giving them a temporary crutch: the ability to serve viewers with out-of-market network programming at a below-market rate and without having to negotiate for it. At the time, the technology did not exist for those providers to otherwise serve viewers with their local broadcast stations.
Today, these satellite companies that Congress subsidized are now among the largest pay-TV platforms and no technological impediment exists. Any reauthorization of STELAR will further incentivize AT&T-DIRECTV to continue to neglect rural markets and is simply not justified.
Practically speaking, a STELAR renewal will mean that DIRECTV subscribers in 12 rural markets, including Alpena, Helena, Glendive, Grand Junction, San Angelo, Victoria, Kirksville, Scottsbluff and North Platte will continue to see news from New York City and Los Angeles rather than life saving tornado coverage or wild fire updates.
This is a business decision that DIRECTV is making as a result of this law: a choice that puts their profits ahead of service to rural consumers and the safety of our communities. Broadcasters and viewers thank the U.S. Copyright Office and Members of Congress who have highlighted this consumer harm and called for STELAR to end.
Some have suggested that STELAR’s expiration would somehow harm viewers in these rural markets because of the time it would take DIRECTV to offer them local service. They ignore the fact that in 2010 it took DISH only one week from passage of this law to launch all of its remaining markets.
Others have suggested that renewal of STELAR’s expiring good faith requirement is itself a reason for reauthorization. While well intended, the expiring good faith requirement has provided no quantifiable benefit, in large part because both parties have every incentive to reach a deal without a government backstop. As a broadcaster who is frequently outmatched in size and revenue by the pay-TV companies with whom I negotiate, I can state with certainty that STELAR’s expiration will have no impact on my ability to complete a retransmission consent deal.
Most significantly, some pay-TV companies seem to be manufacturing a “blackout” crisis, withholding broadcast signals from viewers to justify self-serving changes to the retransmission consent laws. This has no place in this STELAR debate. Over the past five months alone as Congress has ramped up its consideration of STELAR, DIRECTV has orchestrated 10 retransmission consent impasses with broadcast groups across the country impacting more than 179 stations. By comparison, during this same period last year, DIRECTV was involved in only one impasse. Congress should reject these harmful tactics and end the STELAR cycle of perpetual five-year reauthorizations.
In conclusion, I have worked in all aspects of local broadcast television over nearly four decades, including as a news editor, general manager, and now as CEO. I understand the business and financial costs of running a newsroom, investing in state-of-the-art equipment and producing award-winning investigative journalism that makes broadcasters unique and indispensable to the communities we serve. Broadcasters urge you to consider these enduring benefits when you are asked by pay-TV companies to either limit your constituents’ access to local broadcast stations, or undermine broadcasters’ ability to receive fair compensation for our programming.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to your questions.
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