DENVER – Recent action by the Federal Communications Commission could pave the way for Denver television in Cortez.
The commission last week adopted new rules that address the so-called “orphan county” dilemma, in which satellite customers in certain market areas are unable to receive in-state broadcasts because of multi-state market designations.
Some Southwest Colorado subscribers located in out-of-state counties – such as is the case in Montezuma and La Plata – receive Albuquerque broadcasts because of the conundrum. They are sometimes deprived of in-state news, sports, public affairs, political information and emergency information.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, along with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, have been working on the issue, appealing to the FCC to implement the new rule.
Bennet, working with former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, was able to secure provisions in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, known as STELAR, that gave the FCC the authority to decide who can petition for market modification, including cities, counties, stations and providers.
After a written request, the FCC can add or exclude communities from a station’s local market. The commission can also determine whether a community is part of more than one local market.
The commission determines whether to grant a market modification based on consideration of factors demonstrating whether a petitioner provides local service to the community.
“If you live in Colorado it’s just common sense that you should be able to receive Colorado broadcasting,” Bennet said. “La Plata and Montezuma counties have been working on this issue for years. We’re glad to have worked with them to push the FCC to make this change which brings us a step closer to finally resolving it.”
“Communities in Southwestern Colorado have long expressed the desire to receive Colorado broadcasting, as they rightly should,” Gardner added. “The FCC’s new rules paves the way for it and allow for progress toward a resolution.”
In an April letter to the FCC, Bennet, Gardner and Tipton expressed the urgency of the situation, highlighting the sense in allowing a county commission to petition for in-state broadcasts.
“Allowing a county commission to make such filings on behalf of the county’s residence would facilitate the ability of a community to voice its own opinion about the local television content that it would prefer to access,” the lawmakers stated in their letter.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt called the recent rule “exciting.”
“This is a long-standing priority for our community,” Lachelt said. “We appreciate the FCC making this decision and we look forward to working with them on our petition for Denver TV.”
But Colorado broadcasters wondered last year just how far the changes would go. They questioned whether legislation was even needed to provide orphan counties with local network television. Broadcasters say it takes an agreement from the satellite companies to carry network signals.
Eleven Colorado stations have essentially been begging satellite companies to take their network signals. But satellite companies have been resistant.
A spokeswoman for satellite company DISH said only that the company was “currently evaluating the order to determine next steps.”
An earlier joint statement last year from DIRECTV and DISH suggested that the companies “look forward to continuing the important discussion regarding retransmission consent reform, and in particular protecting consumers from local channel blackouts.”