La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday furthered efforts to bring Denver TV to Southwest Colorado, while at the same time hoping to enlist the help of Colorado’s newly elected attorney general.
For years, La Plata County residents have received programming from Albuquerque, making the county an “orphan county,” a term for a community that receives television programming from a location out of state.
La Plata County residents have demanded in-state television programming from Denver for years to have access to more relevant Colorado news, weather and sports.
The effort seemed to have gained traction in March 2017, when the Federal Communications Commission approved a petition that allowed satellite providers to partner with television companies in Denver to broadcast in La Plata County.
Later that month, however, several Albuquerque stations filed a petition to block the Denver stations from reaching La Plata County, arguing Denver stations lack a “meaningful audience” in La Plata County and that residents here receive “ample technical coverage and local programming.”
The Albuquerque stations’ appeal has effectively made Denver stations reluctant to begin broadcasting in La Plata County until the FCC reaches a decision on the matter. It is a decision all interested parties have been awaiting for almost two years.
Chuck Stevens, interim La Plata County manager, said the county has reached out to the FCC numerous times for an update, and the county has not received a response.
La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the FCC urging the agency to “take action to affirm (the March 2017) decision and help facilitate La Plata County’s access to the Colorado broadcast programming that all other Colorado citizens currently enjoy.”
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said residents in the county have suffered as a result of not receiving in-state news, especially when it comes to understanding current legislation being debated at the state Capitol and learning about candidates during elections.
Lachelt said she heard anecdotally from local teachers that grade school students believe New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is their governor.
“This is important to be able to tap into the Denver market and be fully a part of our state,” she said.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said she met with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser earlier this month on the matter. Weiser promised before taking office he would advocate for getting Denver TV into La Plata County.
Westendorff said Weiser planned to talk with FCC personnel during a planned trip to Washington, D.C., this month. She said although congressional delegates Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton have supported those efforts in the past, this is the first time someone at the state level is pushing for access to Denver TV signals.
“(Weiser) is fully aware of the facts here and is willing to advocate,” Westendorff said.
A spokesman for Weiser said Tuesday that Weiser will be in Washington, D.C., on March 5 and is scheduled to meet with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to discuss the La Plata County orphan TV issue.