"Soft" mandate signals Hill concerns with handling requests for in-state programming

The recently passed 2019 Appropriations bill--the one that avoided a second government shutdown--was a massive tome that included directing the FCC to provide a "full analysis" of its treatment of market modification petitions.

Those are petitions by broadcasters or satellite operators or county officials to modify a market so that satellite viewers in a Nielsen market that crosses state lines can get local news and sports from TV stations from another Nielsen market in their own state instead. That is a big issue particularly with college football fans--who include legislators--wanting access to their own team, not the rival from another state, but also for viewers needing local news and emergency info close to home.

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The STELAR (Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Bill, which allows satellite operators to import distant TV network signals for a blanket fee rather than having to negotiate that carriage individually, included a provision in its most recent (2014) renewal that extended such market modifications, where technically feasible, to satellite operators--cable ops had been under a market mod regime for so-called "orphan counties" already. STELAR has a carveout for cases of technical or economic infeasibility given the difference between cable and satellite technologies--satellite operators use targeted spot beams to deliver local stations, which can be tougher to re-position.

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An summary of the bill language points out that Congress' intent was "to ensure Americans have access to local broadcast and media content," and that "many" broadcast station coverage areas don't "neatly conform" to Nielsen markets. But it says that despite the STELAR reforms intended to address that issue, "many communities continue to struggle with market modification petitions," which must be filed with the FCC.

The bill language does not make it a hard mandate, instead saying the FCC "should" provide a full analysis" and comprehensive review of market mod decisions, directing it to "adhere to statutory requirements and congressional intent." The language does not require the FCC to compile report, simply to do its due diligence when reviewing requests.

So, in essence, Congress is just reminding the FCC of why STELAR was modified and to make sure the commission is making viewers' access to to their own local news, sports, politics and emergency info its prime directive.

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