Colorado Legislators Push FCC to Mandate Cablers Carry ‘Local’ TV

Published May 31, 2016

Colorado legislators have petitioned the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of two counties currently not receiving Colorado television broadcasts. Additionally, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) announced plans to introduce a bill mandating cable and satellite companies carry Colorado television broadcasts to the state’s LaPlata and Montezuma counties.

Both counties abut the New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah state lines—the “four-corners” area of the United States. Bennet’s proposed Four Corners Television Act would mandate local carriers provide Colorado broadcasts to the state’s LaPlata and Montezuma residents, in addition to the broadcasts they already receive from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“It amazes me that we turn to legislation when common sense fails,” said Eric Loyd, president and chief technology officer of Bitnetix Incorporated, a technology company in Marion, New York. “It makes sense, as Sen. Michael Bennet states, that people who live in Colorado should be able to receive news, weather, and especially emergency broadcasts from their own state,” he said.

“But in all fairness, this area of our country is rugged, beautiful, and remote,” Loyd continued. “Living in extreme southwestern Colorado means that the weather in Denver, on the other side of the San Juan National Forest, may not be the same as the weather in Durango. It’s possible that Albuquerque actually has more accurate information.”

‘Costs Passed to Consumers’
The FCC is readying a report for Congress on communities unable to access in-state broadcasting in compliance with the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) of 2010. The report is expected to identify so-called “orphaned” communities that cannot access television stations broadcast in-state.

Christopher V. Cook, general partner at Vale, Duval and Chambers, a technology consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, cited television broadcasters, satellite carriers such as Dish Network and DirecTV, and politicians as three of the four main players in the issue. “The fourth and most important party, the consumer, has no collective or unified voice speaking for it,” he said. “Each of the three parties claims a ‘global greater good,’ and each has a thimble of truth to what they say.”

The satellite carriers and cable systems care about this issue mostly from what it does to their cost model and the pain of passing along any increase to the consumer, explained Cook. “In the case of Colorado, if it is mandated that they must carry both Albuquerque and Denver local stations, there will be a carry charge that will likely be passed along to the consumer.”

‘Forcing Heroic Efforts’
While acknowledging local broadcasting offers advantages such as local weather,  school cancelations, traffic reports, breaking news, area crime statistics, and other relevant information, Cook questions whether residents in the two counties actually “feel ‘isolated from their native state,’ as the bipartisan letter suggests.”

Loyd agrees with Cook, and he pushes the argument even further: “We do not enjoy the right to television in this country. Many people don’t even own one. Of those that do, many have cable or non-terrestrial broadcast television that allows them to receive information from a variety of sources from a variety of geographical locations,” he said.

“Forcing the FCC to enact legislation that requires Denver-based broadcasters to send signals to the corner of a ‘square state’ sounds as though they are being asked to put the non-existent rights of television watchers who chose to live in remote areas of Colorado above those of the companies that provide those signals to choose the market in which they will provide them,” said Loyd.

“By all means, put up a tower and provide Emergency Alert System and weather radio signals that are relevant to the location in which they are received, but please stop short of forcing companies to go through heroic efforts to bring television to people who live 400 miles away,” Loyd added.

‘TV Stations Lose’

Cook notes local consumers might prefer the television they’re already receiving over broadcasts from Denver. “My view is the politicians are the most disingenuous on this. What they really care about are those constituents—voters—in ‘orphaned’ counties having access to broadcasts that over the course of any given year will carry, highlight, and address political news. While they say news, sports, weather, and emergency broadcasts, etc., I believe the average viewer in, say, Durango cares more about news, sports, and weather in Albuquerque, not in Denver.”

In addition, Cook says, “The TV stations have the most to lose in this issue on two fronts: Local advertisement revenues and downstream negotiation with the satellite carriers for carrying local stations. Local ad revenues could be altered.”

For example, Cook explains, “If these Colorado counties are no longer counted in the Albuquerque demographic market area, advertisers will likely want to pay less for those ads. Likewise, even though the Denver viewer numbers would go up, the advertisers will likely not want to pay more as they know the viewers in those counties do not really live in or near the buying area.”

Finally, Cook notes the effort could result in two affiliates of the same network competing against each other in the same market. “If the satellite carriers are carrying both a local affiliate and distant affiliate as outlined by STELA, this could unintentionally pit the two affiliates against each other,” he said.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.