Flawed, dangerous, unfair Satellite TV Regulation

Local lives put at risk and local businesses harmed

Pinal County Board of Supervisors meeting - 23 February 2022

As a result of the Satellite TV Reform Community Meeting held in Oracle on 27 January, State Legislator Neal Carter has sent letters to Arizona Senators Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly, Congressman Tom O'Halleran, and the FCC. Hopefully we can get their attention now. Some local citizens have sent letters to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors regarding the issue.

23 February 2022: I attended a meeting of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to request that the "Market Area Modification" petition be completed and submitted to the Federal Communications Commission. I had hoped to provide the Supervisors with detailed background information, but unfortunately the 3 minute time limit imposed on all "Call to the Public" speakers allowed me to only hit some highlights. Here are my prepared remarks in total:

* Mr. Chairman and Supervisors, I came before the Board several years ago to ask for support to help preserve Arizona's Oldest Natural Resource: the Night Sky. As part of an ongoing worldwide program to reduce the harmful and costly impacts of Light Pollution to all life on this planet, Oracle State Park was pursuing "International Dark Sky Park" status. In 2014 the Park became the first park in the Arizona State Parks system to receive this important designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.

* Today I come before the Board to ask for support of an issue just as critical but more complex. I ask for your indulgence if I slightly exceed my allotted time to provide you with some background.

* Since 2013 I have been the Pinal County advocate on Satellite TV reform and have been working with our elected officials in Washington and the Federal Communications Commission to change the existing FCC Television "Designated Market Area" DMA regulation. The regulation prohibits satellite TV customers living in southern Pinal County from receiving Tucson TV stations, just 30 miles away, with their coverage of local news, weather, sports, advertising, and emergency information. The regulation puts all of Pinal County in the Phoenix Market Area and forces southern Pinal County satellite subscribers to receive TV Stations in Phoenix, 120 miles away from where they live, work, shop, and go for entertainment and education.

* In 2015, as a result of my efforts, the FCC informed me of a change in policy. They would allow local government organizations to submit a "Market Area Modification" petition to the FCC. I began working with Supervisors Pete Rios and Tony Smith and Joe Pyritz at the County to prepare this petition. Unfortunately, the county moved very slowly and the petition work stalled in 2019. After communications with the County, it was resumed in January 2020.

* Then the COVID-19 pandemic began, proving that what I had been saying for years was true. The FCC DMA regulation was putting local lives at risk since it prohibited southern Pinal County citizens from knowing COVID impacts where they lived. The Phoenix TV stations did a great job of providing this information for central and northern Arizona, but essentially said nothing about southeastern Arizona, which the Tucson stations cover. In April 2020, a conference call was held with Congressman Tom O'Halleran's staff, Supervisor Smith, and others to discuss this critical issue. While everyone agreed that the regulation was flawed and put local lives at risk and harmed local businesses that advertise on the Tucson stations, the Congressman's staff recommended that the County stop work on the petition. The county suspended its efforts.

* And then the Bighorn Fire hit in June 2020, proving once again that southern Pinal County lives were being put at risk by the Federal Government regulation. The Phoenix TV stations initially covered the fire, but quickly dropped coverage as more fires began in central and northern Arizona. Citizens in southern Pinal County were not able to learn the seriousness of the Bighorn fire while watching "local TV".

* Some members of Congress, who do not live daily with this issue, believe that the Internet is a viable alternative to fixing the DMA regulation. While expanding broadband in Pinal County is very important, the Internet is NOT the solution for citizens to receive broadcasts from the closest TV stations. Livestreaming is limited to scheduled live newscasts. Local advertising on livestreams is limited. I have even seen California companies advertising during commercial breaks on streamed Tucson TV live news broadcasts. High speed Internet is needed without monthly data usage limits. Since satellite TV subscribers are already paying to receive "local TV", there are extra costs to also use the Internet to view real local TV. Emergency information is limited to the live newscasts. The best solution is to immediately fix the illogical flaw in the FCC DMA.

* This is a complex issue. There are rebroadcast contracts between TV stations, networks, and providers. The market share for TV stations is based on the DMA coverage and is a factor in business advertising costs. However, the market share for southern Pinal County is not a significant portion of the large Phoenix TV market which covers central and northern Arizona. Even though Phoenix TV stations generally do not provide local news, weather, sports, advertising, and emergency information for southern Pinal County, they will still object to any market share reduction. Tucson TV stations frequently hear the complaints from southern Pinal County satellite TV subscribers and would welcome the change. This complexity must not deter the County nor the FCC from pursuing this urgently needed change to the Market Area. However, this is not a technical issue with satellite reception in southern Pinal County. Some satellite TV subscribers in southern Pinal County do receive Tucson stations by using a Pima county address.

* My efforts on this critical issue have continued. Last month a community meeting was held in Oracle. Citizens from around southern Pinal County attended or contacted me. State Representative Neal Carter spoke to the gathering. A member of Supervisor Cavanaugh's staff spoke. The Oracle Fire District Chief spoke about the harm he has experienced by the regulation. A Tucson TV station manager even attended and spoke about the regulation. He specifically recommended that the County resume its FCC Market Area Modification petition with the assistance of an attorney experienced in such matters.

* The County must urgently submit a "Market Area Modification" petition to the FCC to allow southern Pinal County satellite TV subscribers to have unrestricted access to Tucson TV Stations. The next crisis could be weeks, days, or even hours away. Thank you.

You can watch a replay of the Board meeting on the Board's website. I am the first speaker, appearing at the 2:10 mark.

The Chairman directed the County Manager, Leo Lew, to check on the status of the FCC petition.

After the meeting, I emailed the County Manager and all five County Supervisors a copy of my prepared remarks so they would have full details on this critical issue.

Local satellite TV customers who are impacted by the flawed Federal regulation should attend future Pinal County Board of Supervisors meetings to keep the pressure on the County to take action on the petition. Comments can also be emailed to the Pinal County Clerk of the Board at Natasha.Kennedy@pinalcountyaz.gov.

Pinal County Board of Supervisors FCC Petition Status?

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Copyright ©2022 Michael L. Weasner / mweasner@mac.com
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