Weather, Broncos games, elections – when it comes to Colorado news, local residents can’t get it on television. As an “orphan county,” La Plata County, like Montezuma County, receives its programming from Albuquerque, but a recent response from satellite company DISH Network brought Denver television access a little bit closer.
This month, DISH notified county officials that providing Denver service to La Plata County is “not technically unfeasible.” In other words, picking up a Denver signal and moving the county from the New Mexico market area to Denver’s is possible from a technical standpoint.
Over the next several months, county staff will be assembling a petition for market modification to the Federal Communications Commission that demonstrates the need for in-state programming. Market modification is the process by which the FCC can modify a television broadcaster’s market boundaries, and a rule authorizing the local petitioning process took effect early this year. Before the rule’s establishment, only broadcast and satellite companies could petition the market.
Once the petition is submitted, the FCC has 120 days to review and then deny or grant a market modification. Satellite operators must then reach agreements with each affiliate station – a process that can take from 30 to 90 days.
Stations the county hopes to acquire include NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC and PBS.
The most recent milestone is one piece of a years-long push for Denver programming backed by the county and members of the Colorado delegation.
In this article, County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina and Riki Parikh, who provides policy counsel to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, answered questions about what has been accomplished so far, and what’s ahead.
FCC officials were not available for comment.
What does this certification from DISH Network mean for getting access?
Commissioner Julie Westendorff: One of the many stops in getting to the finish line of hopefully getting Denver TV service here is that the satellite companies find it “not technically unfeasible.” We got a letter from DISH TV that essentially says it is technically feasible if some additional criteria are met. We sent the same letter to Direct TV. The response window is still open.
Can you break down what it means to be an orphan county?
Westendorff: The whole country is broken up into markets that the FCC designates, and those markets don’t necessarily conform to state lines, as you can imagine. In New York City, from a traditional broadcasting standpoint, a signal can be picked up in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut. We’re in the Albuquerque market. With satellite and internet, how far you can pick up a signal from an antennae has become irrelevant. We have the technology to be part of our own state’s news.
Why is this significant to the community?
Westendorff: Access to Denver TV is one of the highest priorities when I talk to people in the community. I don’t have to solicit comments on Denver TV. I’m excited that the door is even open.
The FCC finalized a new rule in February that allows counties to petition them directly – what kind of doors does this open?
Westendorff: It gave us an opportunity to request service. Before, we did not have an opportunity to ask for service. This rule opened the door halfway, not guaranteeing we’d get there because of the third parties (broadcasters and satellite companies) involved, but at least it opened the door.
How will Colorado’s state and federal representation support the county in this process?
Riki Parikh: We’re working with the Senate Commerce Committee and FCC to make sure the county has the resources they need. We’ll also continue the role we’ve held for the last few years: push the satellite companies to cooperate with the counties.
The market modification rule passed, the county received technical feasibility certification – what is the next milestone?
Joanne Spina: There is a considerable amount of work that will need to go into the development of the petition to the FCC. I wish it was as simple as penning a letter, but it’s not that simple. We’ll be working in the next few months to put this together. And, even if we get market modification, carriage might not happen unless there is an agreement between satellite companies and the broadcasters. If the FCC approves the market modification, stations can become eligible for carriage.
How will you be able to fulfill some of the petition requirements, such as providing shopping and labor pattern data with respect to Denver television?
Spina: Some of this stuff we may not have. If we don’t have that information, we have to develop a response to why that is or isn’t significant. Part of this is about advertising, and when you don’t have Denver TV, you can’t discern what part of your local market is shopping in Denver, for example, so it’s a difficult series of criteria to respond to. Not all the criteria have to be met; we just have to demonstrate our need. And we have a compelling argument in terms of the fact that the people in our community don’t have coverage of what’s going on in our own state.
The fee to file a market modification petition with the FCC is $1,465, which can be accommodated in the county budget. Beyond that, what are the associated costs?
Spina: Based on the response we got from DISH, additional costs may not be to the county but to the satellite providers.
How far away is Denver programming?
Parikh: If we go by the book, and go through the county’s submitting the petition, the FCC reviewing the petition and making a determination to modify the market, that process is at least nine months from now. It’s a long process. Our hope, though, is that we can reduce the time. I would say around a year.