It ain't broke, so don't try to fix it. That was the gist of the National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB) comments Monday to the FCC about the current system of determining who is eligible to receive out-of-market TV stations signals.
The report was required by Congress in its reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and
Localism Act (STELA), prompted by legislators concerned about constituents' access to stations given the gerrymandering of some markets that cross state lines. That issue has hit Congress where many of its most voluble constituents live--access to home team sports programming.
"[R]evisions to local television market definitions to ensure the availability of local service are not
only unnecessary, they are also fraught with difficult practical problems," according to a study NAB
submitted to argue against changes to the current system. Broadcasters maintain that there is already an "extraordinarily high" level of over-the-air, in-state broadcasts, as well as access via the Internet.
NAB also says that out-of-state, but in-market, TV stations "frequently offer extensive locally-oriented
service to viewers," citing D.C. stations provision of Northern Virginia news to viewers there.
The FCC was directed to study the issue as part of its STELA implementation in part to get legislators
concerned about it to sign onto the overall bill, which had a tough time getting through Congress. "Almost all (99.99%) of cable subs get at least one, in-state TV station," said the report.
Among the arguments NAB makes for retaining the system as is: Nielsen markets reflect actual viewing
patterns and change as viewing does; the markets are also a function of technical coverage; "wholesale changes" could hurt stations' ability to get advertising and pay for local sports and news programming.
NAB has also argued, and did again Monday, that if the key is local sports and news, that programming can and is being licensed for delivery to in-state viewers without having to duplicate a station's entire national and syndicated programming lineup. Where there is a will, NAB suggests, there is a technical way that does not require the government to intervene.
Ending on something of a "parade of horribles," NAB concluded: "Redefining markets has the real potential to disrupt local television advertising markets, long-standing and important program exclusivity arrangements, and the carriage obligations of cable and satellite operators. Finally, if television markets are redefined, existing local stations' ownership structures could easily fall out of compliance with the FCC's rules."
The issue of delivering home state signals to so-called "orphan counties" has drawn a number of comments to the FCC docket from those who think the system is broke, particularly concerning a handful of Southwestern Colorado counties in the Albuquerque TV market.
"It is absurd that certain constituents of mine who live literally yards from each other, by virtue of their mailing addresses only, can be allowed or denied access to television from their home state," wrote Colorado State Senator Ellen Roberts last week, one of numerous submissions from the state.