Senators Blast DirecTV For Underserving 12 DMAs

The lawmakers from Colorado and Wyoming say the satellite operator's offering of distant signals from New York and Los Angeles in place of local affiliates in 12 small markets is "unacceptable" and "must end."  

The U.S. senators from Colorado and Wyoming scolded DirecTV for offering subscribers in 12 small markets network broadcast signals from New York and Los Angeles rather than the signals of local affiliates.

“This is unacceptable and a practice that must be ended as we work to close the digital divide,” the senators said yesterday in an open letter to AT&T, the owner of DirecTV.

The senators are all from affected states: Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

“We acknowledge that the distant signal provisions in current law allow this; however, we do not see why AT&T/DirecTV could not work to minimize the distance and provide local news from within the subscriber’s region,” the letter says.

“[R]ural consumers are shortchanged based on where they live. Without access to local broadcasting, your subscribers in these situations miss vital information on public safety, weather, elections and opportunities for community engagement.”

The 12 markets: Alpena, Mich.; Bowling Green, Ky.; Caspar-Riverton, Wyo.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Scottsbluff, Neb.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Helena, Mont.; North Platte, Neb.; Ottumwa, Iowa; Presque Isle, Maine; San Angelo, Texas; Victoria, Texas; and Glendive, Mont.

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The letter comes as Congress is considering whether to renew the so-called STELAR law that allows satellite operators to import distant signals into areas where they can demonstrate that subscribers cannot receive local affiliates off air.

To import the signals, the operator must pay copyright royalties, but they are a fraction of what they would pay in retransmission consent fees if they carried the local affiliates.

Broadcasters, led by the NAB, are opposing renewing STELAR not only because it encourages satellite operators to substitute distant signals for local ones, but also because they fear that satellite and cable operators will attach provisions to it aimed at weakening broadcasters’ ability to negotiate for retrans payments.


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