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U.S. House panel advances satellite TV law reauthorization

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel on Thursday voted to reauthorize a law allowing satellite providers like Dish Network Corp or DirecTV to bring in TV signals from other markets when subscribers cannot pick up local stations.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, with a voice vote, moved to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, or STELA, for another five years, including a new provision that bans unaffiliated TV stations in one market from jointly negotiating retransmission fees with pay-TV providers.

Both Republican and Democratic leaders on the committee said reauthorizing STELA, which expires at the end of 2014, would ensure that 1.5 million U.S. satellite TV subscribers would not lose access to important broadcast programming.

Dish and DirecTV have welcomed the latest iteration of the bill, calling broadcasters' joint negotiations "the most egregious forms of retransmission consent abuse."

Broadcasters had pushed against limits to their joint negotiating ability. They had urged lawmakers to focus also on the pay-TV providers' own joint selling practices and use of STELA to bring in distant signals instead of strengthening local TV signals, to avoid paying higher retransmission fees.

The bill passed by the House panel also delays the deadline for compliance with a new Federal Communications Commission rule, introduced earlier this year, that prohibits unaffiliated television stations in one market from jointly selling advertising.

The commerce committee also approved an amendment that would require the FCC to report within 18 months on consumers' access to broadcast programming from outside their market and what alternatives may exist to how the FCC currently defines markets.

The bill was authored by Republican chairmen and Democratic ranking members of both the full committee and the subcommittee on communications and technology: Representatives Greg Walden of Oregon, Fred Upton of Michigan and Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, both of California.

STELA reauthorization will have to pass through the full House of Representatives and the Senate before becoming law.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Tom Brown)

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