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Retrans Watchers Focused on FCC In-State Broadcast Programming Report to Congress


As we discussed in a previous post and separate Client Advisory, the FCC released a Public Notice to implement a provision of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) that requires the FCC to submit a report on in-state broadcast programming to Congress by August 11, 2011. The Public Notice was published in the Federal Register yesterday, which means that comments are due by January 24, 2011, with reply comments due by February 22, 2011.

As we discussed previously, the purpose of the FCC’s Report to Congress is to address a concern of some members of Congress that subscribers located in markets that straddle a state line may be unable to receive broadcast news and information from their own state because the local stations made available by cable and satellite providers are all located in the “other” state. According to the FCC, the report will: (1) analyze the number of households in a state that receive the signals of local broadcast stations assigned to a community of license located in a different state; (2) evaluate the extent to which consumers in each local market have access to in-state broadcast programming over-the-air or from a multichannel video programming distributor; and (3) consider whether there are alternatives to DMAs for defining “local” markets that would provide consumers with more in-state broadcast programming.

This proceeding is relevant to retrans because there have been some efforts on Capitol Hill to introduce legislation allowing cable and satellite operators to import the signals of television stations from another market. While the official description of this situation describes these subscribers as being deprived of news and information regarding their own state, the more pragmatic concern of such viewers it is argued is that they aren’t able to watch sports teams from their state as often as they would like. However, creating a legislative opportunity to import distant stations carrying such in-state sports (and other) programming would often mean importing a station that duplicates the network and syndicated programming of a local station already carried by cable systems and satellite providers in the market. Importing stations in this manner raises complex issues with respect to potentially siphoning off the local station’s viewers (and advertisers), undercutting the local station’s program exclusivity, and impacting the local station’s leverage when it commences retransmission consent negotiations.

For those who plan on filing comments or replies, keep in mind that the FCC has specifically asked for data to help it analyze the issues relating to the availability of in-state broadcast stations for consumers, including the proper “methodologies, metrics, data sources, and level of granularity” that should be used in its report to Congress. The FCC is also asking for specific information to identify counties and populations within given states that have limited access to in-state broadcast programming.

As a result of efforts currently underway on the Hill with respect to potentially allowing the importation of in-state but out-of-market signals, those interested in retransmission consent should continue to monitor this matter closely.