The two senators representing the state of Maine have formally expressed their concern about the reauthorization of distant signal provisions in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) to the leadership of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees.
Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King are particularly concerned about DirecTV subscribers in the Presque Isle, Maine, area, in the northern part of the state.
At present, it is one of 12 tiny markets where DirecTV uses STELAR legislation to bring distant TV signals, rather than provide subscribers with what the Copyright Alliance and the NAB consider to be local TV stations.
On March 15, this issue was brought directly to A&T CEO John Donovan by Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester — along with three other members of Congress. Tester queried owner of DBS provider DirecTV asking when they plan to finally act on a 2003 pledge to bring local TV stations, where found, to every DMA.
Provisions in STELAR, which expires at the end of this year, allow satellite TV companies to import TV signals from major markets into local markets. When the law initially passed 30 years ago, it was not feasible for satellite TV companies to rebroadcast local-into-local signals in all markets; however, many say, modern technology has made this possible.
“Although there is no technological limitation, AT&T/DirecTV is providing subscribers with broadcast channels from outside the state rather than those from more local broadcast stations in Presque Isle or even the Bangor or Portland-Auburn markets,” the Senators wrote. “This is unacceptable and denies these viewers access to critically important in-state news, weather, and emergency information.”
Presque Isle is home to roughly 9,000 residents and is just west of the Canadian border and the province of New Brunswick. It is a two-hour drive across the border to Fredericton, but 30 minutes further to Bangor and four hours from Auburn.
For subscribers of DISH, viewers can Presque Isle-based WAGM-8, the CBS affiliate that also offers FOX programming on DT-2. It has been owned by Gray Television since April 2015 and has been in operation since 1956.
Also based in Presque Isle is Maine Public Broadcasting Network member station WMEM-10.
Meanwhile, DISH subscribers receive the ABC, NBC affiliate from Bangor.
Similarly, Charter Communications’ Spectrum lineup in Presque Isle offers these channels, in addition to CBC’s English-language and French-language offerings and Quebecor Media’s French-language TVA network serving New Brunswick.
Yet, all stations are absent from DirecTV, despite a promise in 2003 to bring local stations to every market it operates in.
For DirecTV subscribers, think of flying on JetBlue Airways: WCBS-2, WNBC-4, WNYW-5 and WABC-7 from New York are the “big four” network stations, while The CW Network is provided by WDCW-50 in Washington, D.C. PBS programming comes direct via a national feed.
Writing to Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein; and to Sen. Roger Wicker, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, and to ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, Senators Collins and King write, “As your Committee deliberates whether STELAR’s distant signal statutory license provisions should sunset as originally intended, we are concerned that this license has not only outlived its usefulness, but now provides a below-market incentive for AT&T/DirecTV to deny viewers in Northern Maine the in-state coverage they desire and deserve. We ask that you weigh this harm to our constituents — along with those viewers in any other neglected markets across the country — and work with us to remedy this problem.”
Both the NAB and the Maine Association of Broadcasters have expressed support for the senators.
“We’re grateful to Senators Collins and King for working to ensure that television viewers in Northern Maine have access to local news, weather, programming, and emergency information,” said MAB President/CEO Suzanne Goucher. “We deeply appreciate their support on this issue.”
NAB EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton added, “Clearly, AT&T/DirecTV’s massive resources allow it to deliver locally-based TV programming to viewers in Presque Isle and Caribou rather than rely on imported programming from New York City. We thank the Maine Senators for highlighting this unfair treatment to smaller market TV viewers.”