Flawed, dangerous, unfair Satellite TV Regulations

Local lives put at risk and local businesses harmed

Community Meeting on Satellite TV Reform

6 January 2022: I received a response from Senator Mark Kelly regarding my request for his support of House Report 117-79, dated July 1, 2021, FINANCIAL SERVICES AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2022, regarding STELA reform. His response read more like a script for TV campaign commercial telling me all the good things he has done for Arizona. His response totally ignored the point of my request. He either does not understand the seriousness of the issue or his staff never actually read inputs from his constituents.

12 January 2022: A community meeting on STELA reform has been set up for later in January. Here is the flyer information I have distributed to the media, local organizations, local public gathering places, local businesses, emergency responders, and elected officials, and posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Attn: Southern Pinal County DirecTV and Dish TV subscribers

For many years local efforts have been underway to correct the flaws in the "Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act" (STELA) Federal legislation and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "Designated Market Area" (DMA) regulation that prohibit DirecTV and Dish TV subscribers in southern Pinal County from receiving Tucson TV stations (about 30 miles away). Satellite TV subscribers can only receive the Phoenix TV stations (about 120 miles away) even though they are paying to receive "local stations". As our elected officials in Washington, DC, found out during the Bighorn Fire in 2020, this puts local lives at risk. It also harms businesses in Pima and Pinal counties that advertise on the Tucson TV stations by prohibiting southern Pinal County customers from viewing this advertising.

Satellite TV subscribers in southern Pinal County, business owners in Pima and Pinal counties, and emergency responders are invited to a community meeting to discuss urgent further actions. The meeting will be held at the Oracle Community Center, 685 East American Avenue, Oracle, Arizona, on Thursday, 27 January 2022, at 7:30 PM. Residents and businesses interested in receiving local news, weather, sports, advertising, and local emergency information instead of central and northern Arizona information should plan to attend.

Mike Weasner
STELA Reform Advocate
Oracle, Arizona

28 January 2022: This is a report on the Satellite TV Reform community meeting held in Oracle on Thursday evening, 27 January 2022.

Senator Krysten Sinema, Senator Mark Kelly, Congressman Tom O'Halleran, Arizona State Legislator Neal Carter, Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, managers from the Tucson TV stations, and the President of the Arizona Broadcasters Association were invited to attend the meeting. The Outreach and Constituent Services Representative from Senator Kelly's Phoenix office, State Legislator Neal Carter, the Administrative Assistant for Supervisor Cavanaugh, and one Tucson TV station manager attended. Also in attendance were Oracle Fire District Chief Robert Jennings and a representative from the Golder Ranch Fire District. Residents and business owners from Oracle, Dudleyville, San Tan Valley, Tucson, Saddlebrooke, and Mammoth attended the meeting.

I began the meeting by providing my background. I then talked about the "Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act" (STELA) Federal legislation and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "Designated Market Area" (DMA) regulation that prohibit DirecTV and Dish TV subscribers in southern Pinal County from receiving Tucson TV stations, and my efforts since 2013 to get this changed. I noted that some southern Pinal County satellite TV subscribers ARE receiving Tucson stations on DirecTV and Dish TV. This violates STELA and the FCC DMA, and satellite TV providers can be fined by the FCC. Since reception is possible, there is no technical issue to providing Tucson TV stations to southern Pinal County subscribers, although the satellite providers would like elected officials to believe there is.

I then discussed efforts to petition the FCC for a change. The FCC will not accept a "Market Area Modification" petition from individuals. This had previously been attempted in Oracle. As a result of my communications with the FCC, in 2015 they contacted me and said they had changed a procedure and would now allow local governments to submit a "Market Area Modification" petition. At my request, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors began work on a DMA Modification petition in 2015. It stalled, then was restarted in January 2020. A STELA conference call was held with Congressman O'Halleran's staff in Washington, DC, Pinal County Supervisor Tony Smith, and myself in April 2020 in response to concerns that southern Pinal County citizens were not being helped by Phoenix TV coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in central and northern Arizona. The Board's petition effort was terminated at the inappropriate recommendation to do so during the call by Congressman O'Halleran's staff. I mentioned that when the Bighorn Fire occurred in the summer of 2020, proving that lives were being put at risk by STELA and the DMA, Congressman O'Halleran's staff stopped responding to my communications to them.

Next, I talked about using the Internet. Congressman O'Halleran has stated that the Internet is the solution to the flawed STELA legislation and DMA. While improved Internet access is definitely needed and his efforts are worthwhile, using the Internet to view local TV is inadequate. There are many problems with the Internet solution. Livestreaming is limited to scheduled live newscasts. Local advertising on livestreams is limited. I said that 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 get access to real local TV. Emergency information is limited to the live newscasts. The best solution is for Congress and the FCC to fix the flaws in STELA and the DMA that put local lives at risk and harm local businesses.

I then gave credit to Congressman O'Halleran who did take some action in mid-2021. House Report 117-79 - FINANCIAL SERVICES AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2022, has a paragraph on "Transmissions of Local Television Programming". I read the paragraph:

Transmissions of Local Television Programming.--The Committee encourages consumer access to local television programming, especially in rural areas, for its economic, safety, and cultural importance. The Committee notes that many broadcast stations do not neatly conform to Nielsen-measured designated market area boundaries, preventing many satellite television viewers from accessing local news, politics, sports, and emergency programming. The Committee also notes that despite the reforms made to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization (STELAR) Act of 2014, many communities continue to struggle with market modification petitions to the FCC. The Committee is particularly concerned with the lack of clarity regarding the technical and economic feasibility requirement. In reviewing this requirement, the FCC should provide a full analysis to ensure decisions on market modification are comprehensively reviewed and STELAR's intent to promote localism is retained. The Committee therefore directs the FCC to adhere to statutory requirements and Congressional intent when taking administrative action related to satellite television carriage issues.

Unfortunately, this may not be adequate to get Congress and the FCC to actually do anything positive for southern Pinal County citizens. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors DMA Modification petition to the FCC is still needed.

I discussed that is a complex issue with lots of money involved. There are rebroadcast contracts between TV stations, networks, and providers. Each TV station's market share 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 ignore 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. But there is a complication. Some stations in Phoenix and Tucson are owned by the same parent company.

It is now time for the impacted citizens to take some actions. I said that everyone should contact Senators Sinema and Kelly and Congressman O'Halleran. Ask the senators to support House Report 117-79 "Transmissions of Local Television Programming" actions during 2022 Appropriations discussions and voting. Ask Congressman O'Halleran, as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is responsible for STELA, to push for urgent legislation change to stop putting local lives at risk and harming businesses in Pima and Pinal counties who advertise on the Tucson stations. Congress and the FCC must allow satellite TV subscribers to view the nearest TV stations with their local news, weather, sports, advertising, and local emergency information. The next crisis could be weeks, days, or even hours away.

Citizens should also contact Arizona State legislator Neal Carter and ask that he and other elected state officials in Arizona contact members of Congress to stress the critical need for urgent STELA reform to help citizens of Arizona.

In addition, citizens should contact Supervisor Cavanaugh and ask that the Pinal County Board of Supervisors immediately finalize and submit the DMA "Market Area Modification" to the FCC. The sooner this petition is submitted to the FCC the sooner the clock will start on eventually making Tucson stations available to satellite TV customers in southern Pinal County. Unfortunately, the legal process with TV stations, networks, satellite TV providers, and the public could take several years.

I provided this contact information to the attendees:

Senator Kyrsten Sinema
317 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-4521

Senator Mark Kelly
Hart Senate Office Building, Suite 516
Washington, DC 20510

Phone:  202-224-2235

Congressman Tom O'Halleran
318 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3361

Arizona State Legislator Neal Carter
1700 West Washington, Room 309
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Phone: 602-926-5761

Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh
118 Catalina Avenue

Mammoth, AZ 85618
Phone: 520-487-2941

Refer to:

Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) legislation and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Designated Market Area (DMA) regulation


House Report 117-79 - FINANCIAL SERVICES AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2022, paragraph "Transmissions of Local Television Programming"

I said that it had been suggested that southern Pinal County citizens attend Pinal County Board of Supervisors meetings to request Board action on the petition. This could be done as groups or as individuals. The sign-in sheets asked whether the attendees were willing to do that.

I then asked if the invited special guests had any comments they would like to make before we heard from residents. Each one spoke about understanding the concerns of residents and businesses. The Tucson TV station manager talked about the complexities involved in changing the TV market area. Everyone said they would do what they could to try to get needed change implemented, although it will be difficult. I noted that since there is no technical issue with southern Pinal County satellite TV customers receiving Tucson TV stations, perhaps an "FCC DMA Waiver" would be the simplest and fastest solution while Congress and the FCC work to correct the serious flaws.

I read some emailed comments I had received from concerned citizens who were unable to attend the meeting. Several attendees also spoke on their concerns.

The meeting lasted about two hours and I believe it was productive. I will be contacting those citizens who indicated they supported attending Pinal County Board of Supervisors meetings to request Board action on the petition. The next meeting will be Wednesday, 2 February 2022, at 9:30 AM, at the Pinal County Administrative Complex, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room, located at 135 North Pinal Street, in Florence, Arizona. "Call to Public" comments can also be emailed to the Pinal County Clerk of the Board at Natasha.Kennedy@pinalcountyaz.gov.

Pinal County Board of Supervisors meeting - 23 February 2022

Main Flawed Satellite TV Regulation page

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