Congress and the flawed STELA Legislation

Congress fails to fix STELA Legislation in 2013 & 2014

My initial efforts in 2013 and 2014 to get Congress to fix STELA

When Laurraine and I moved to Oracle, Arizona, in 2009, we signed up with a satellite TV provider and were surprised when they said that they could not provide us with Tucson TV stations (only 30 miles away). They said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required us to only receive Phoenix TV stations (120 miles away). It quickly became apparent how flawed and dangerous the FCC regulation is for satellite TV subscribers in southern Pinal County, Arizona. (Cable TV companies are allowed to provide Tucson stations, but there is no cable service here. Over-the-air reception is blocked by mountainous terrain for many residents.) Local businesses in Pinal and Pima counties who advertise on Tucson stations are being harmed as their commercials are not seen by potential customers just 30 miles away. Residents here are more likely to shop and get entertainment in Tucson than drive the much further distance to Phoenix. Consequently, advertising on Phoenix TV stations is generally useless to local viewers. Residents here are being deprived of local news, sports, weather, advertising, and coverage of emergency situations (wildfires, weather, other). The Phoenix TV stations ignore southern Pinal County for the most part. This is not only unfair but puts lives at risk.

These weather graphics from KPNX in Phoenix (top) and KVOA in Tucson (bottom) show that Oracle is covered by a Tucson station whereas it is ignored by the station in Phoenix.


In January 2013, I contacted the Arizona office of Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, Representative for our District, about the issue. A member of her staff provided me with a lot of helpful assistance and information about the STELA law that Congress had passed. Although I was assured that her Washington, DC, office would be notified of the issue that was putting lives at risk and harming local businesses, no action was taken by Representative Kirkpatrick to correct the legislation.

This issue was created by the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) legislation which Congress had passed. Based on inputs from the cable TV industry, the satellite industry, and the Nielsen market research company, the United States was divided into "Market Areas". These "Designated Market Areas" are typically counties within each state, although some exceptions were made near large metropolitan areas. All of Pinal County, Arizona, was put in the Phoenix "Market Area". At the time the original legislation was passed most of the population in Pinal County was closer to Phoenix than Tucson, so the harmful impacts of STELA, while still real, were limited. However, over the years the population in southern Pinal County, considerably closer to Tucson than Phoenix, continued to grow. STELA was not written with population shifts in mind, thereby complicating the process of modifying TV market areas. Had STELA been written to use the actual location of customers instead of the illogical simplification of county-sized areas, this issue would never have surfaced.

In 2013 I wrote to the President and CEO of DirecTV about the issue. I received a response that, as expected, cited the FCC DMA regulation as the reason why customers in southern Pinal County could not be separated from all of Pinal County, which is in the Phoenix "Market Area".

In 2013 and 2014, I wrote letters to then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and to President Barack Obama explaining the seriousness of the issue and requested that they implement a waiver to the DMA to allow satellite TV providers to offer Tucson TV stations to their southern Pinal County customers. No action was taken. I stayed in touch with the office of Congresswoman Kirkpatrick throughout 2013 and 2014 to continue to push the issue, but no Congressional action was taken.

The STELLA legislation came up for reauthorization in 2014, but for whatever reason Congresswoman Kirkpatrick failed to protect lives and businesses in her Congressional District.

Pinal County Government gets involved

Main Flawed STELA Legislation page

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