DENVER – The push to bring Denver television to Southwest Colorado gained momentum Friday after a U.S. Senate committee agreed to address the conundrum through legislation.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved including provisions in the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to bring critical television to the Four Corners.
The push would allow residents to access Colorado news, weather, sports and emergency information.
Specifically, the bill would allow satellite providers and local broadcasters to petition the FCC to allow residents of so-called “orphan counties” to receive broadcasts from local, in-state TV stations.
The issue has resulted in a loud cry from La Plata County residents, who receive TV news from Albuquerque rather than Denver because of Nielsen market designations. In some cases, the designations can affect who receives Denver Broncos games, and with the season just kicking off again, cries are likely to grow.
“I have led the fight in Congress to ensure all Coloradans can access the news, weather and emergency information they need,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said. “I am proud the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee heeded my longtime calls to address the issue of ‘orphaned counties’ in the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act.”
Udall, a Democrat who is running in a tight re-election campaign against U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, pointed out the Republican-controlled House failed to advance similar relief.
Earlier this year, Udall asked that a provision be included in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2014 that would have amended the Communications Act of 1934 and copyright laws to allow residents of La Plata and Montezuma counties to receive Colorado broadcast stations by satellite or cable.
“Despite the U.S. House of Representatives’ failure to act on behalf of the people of Durango and Cortez, I am proud the Senate has joined me in addressing this problem,” Udall said. “I urge the Commerce Committee and the full U.S. Senate to pass this vital legislation as soon as possible.”
In April, Udall met with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in Durango to discuss possible solutions to the conundrum. The powerful commissioner acknowledged it is a frustrating situation but a difficult fix.
In July, Udall sent a letter to the FCC asking it to review the feasibility of DirecTV offering the residents of Mesa and Montrose counties access to local television broadcasts.
New Mexico broadcasters have added to the impasse in Southwest Colorado, as they don’t want to lose viewers. A bit of progress was made after a deal was struck to provide some viewers with Broncos games, but most agree that it is only a temporary solution.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, another Democrat, also has been working on the issue.
“Coloradans in La Plata and Montezuma counties have been calling for a solution to this problem for decades,” Bennet said. “The current system that determines where your local news, sports and emergency information comes from doesn’t make a lot of sense for Southwest Colorado.
“This bill finally gives folks in those counties a path forward to finally fix this problem, and I hope Congress will pass this provision quickly,” Bennet said.
Udall’s opponent, Gardner, said politics shouldn’t get in the way of common-sense measures for the constituents of rural Colorado.
Gardner authored a bipartisan amendment to the House-passed STELA reauthorization, aiming to provide programming in La Plata and Montezuma counties.
Gardner also met with broadcasters, cable providers and satellite providers to discuss solutions to the “orphan county” issue.
He is working with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, to introduce legislation that would offer a more permanent solution.
“I commend members of the Colorado House and Senate delegation for working together to try to find a solution to the Four Corners broadcast dilemma,” Gardner said. “It’s too bad that bitter partisanship is driving attacks on those who are working towards constructive solutions when the ultimate goal is to ensure that all of Colorado has access to Colorado broadcast programming.”
Tipton’s office said Udall and Bennet never reached out to him on the issue before to introducing their bill. The office worries about using the issue as an “election-year prop.”
“This has always been a bipartisan issue in the past – one that Congressman Tipton and the senators previously introduced companion legislation on in the last Congress,” said Josh Green, a Tipton spokesman. “So, it’s odd that this year the senators decided to go it alone in the interest of election-year partisan politics rather than work together with the House in the best interest of the people of Southwest Colorado.”
He pointed out that there was a closed vote on the reauthorization bill on the floor, meaning that under House rules, no amendments could have been offered.
“It’s Congressman Tipton’s hope that the senators will put partisan politics aside and work with the House to fix this issue for the people of Southwest Colorado,” Green said. “It’s too important not to.”