DENVER – Television broadcasters worry that federal legislation aimed at providing Denver television to Southwest Colorado would do little without a commitment from satellite providers.
In fact, the broadcasters say no legislation is even needed to provide so-called “orphan counties” with local network television. They say all it would take is an agreement from the satellite companies to carry network signals.
The issue is important to Durango, where the majority of customers get their television from satellite services but receive Albuquerque broadcasts.
“The reality is they can bring in those local signals today,” said Justin Sasso, president of the Colorado Broadcasters Association. “We have a letter signed from 11 local stations ... saying, ‘Take our signals, please.’”
There would be stipulations, including stripping certain network content in which there are agreements between networks and broadcasters. But much of the local news content that Southwest Colorado has been craving would be supplied.
“Satellite keeps pushing back, saying it’s technically impossible, which we know that to be a false statement because it’s actually being done,” Sasso said.
“Then they say, ‘If we could do it, no one would watch it,’” he continued. “Well, if (consumers) say they’re hungry, but you say they won’t eat the food, why don’t you put the food out and let them try it?”
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Colorado Democrats, have been pushing aggressively for a legislative fix. Recently, they celebrated the Senate passage of a measure that would help Four Corners residents access Colorado TV news, weather, sports and emergency information.
The bill would allow satellite providers and local broadcasters to petition the FCC to allow residents of orphan counties to receive broadcasts from local, in-state TV stations.
But broadcasters say the legislation amounts to mostly a study without the satellite commitment. It would require the FCC to conduct an analysis of consumers’ access to programming from TV stations located outside their local market. The FCC would also study alternatives to designated market areas.
“This new legislation doesn’t give them what they wanted necessarily,” Sasso said.
Still, Bennet said it is a step in the right direction.
“The current system doesn’t make sense for Southwest Colorado, but this bill will finally give folks a path forward to fix this problem,” Bennet said in a statement.
Satellite companies point out that it is much more complicated than simply carrying network signals. They highlight FCC rules and regulations that dictate those guidelines.
When asked by The Durango Herald, satellite companies – including DIRECTV and DISH – pointed to a Nov. 20 joint statement:
“We applaud Congress for passing bipartisan legislation that makes important reforms to the outdated laws governing today’s video marketplace, while ensuring continuity of service to more than 1.5 million distant signal satellite subscribers who would, otherwise, lose service at the end of this year.
“This legislation is the result of the exceptional work and leadership of the Senate and House Commerce and Judiciary Committees. We look forward to continuing the important discussion regarding retransmission consent reform, and in particular protecting consumers from local channel blackouts.”
But Mark Cornetta, president and general manager of KUSA-TV 9News, said the issue really rests with the satellite companies. He said that while the legislation would give cable and satellite stakeholders the ability to import the network signals, there would still need to be an agreement from the satellite providers.
“We’ve offered it to the satellite providers, they’ve opted not to accept that and it’s as simple as that,” Cornetta said.
Networks have tried alternatives, such as offering programming online, but that’s about as far as they can go.
“In short of that, we really don’t have another option,” Cornetta said.