Local communities rely on local broadcasters for critical and regional-specific information. Nowhere is this more true than in rural America where distances are farther, but the sense of community is stronger.
America is facing a broadband divide, putting urban and rural communities in competition for critical telecommunication access. Unfortunately, densely populated urban centers often win out, resulting in a lack of investment by major companies in rural areas and placing the burden on local and regional companies to make up the difference.
Whether you are on the farm, ranch or Main Street in rural America, local television broadcasting remains an essential and leading source of local news, sports, weather and emergency information. In stark contrast to the afterthought service provided by the major corporations, local broadcasters remain an integral part of rural communities.
In an era of cable and fakebook news, rural Americans can still tune in to their trusted local news for a report from the state Capitol, update on commodity markets, weather and last night’s school board meeting.
When catastrophic weather events hit, like we just saw impact our fellow producers in Nebraska, local news is critical. Everyone’s heard of the promise of “5G” communications networks, but in places where there is no-G or low-G, rural Americans tune in to local broadcast television for updates on weather and emergency information. And when an emergency has passed, rural Americans stay tuned to local broadcasters on how to stay safe and help the community rebuild.
Despite the clear benefits of local broadcast television, there are now companies who are refusing to provide these channels in dozens of rural markets. There isn’t a technological barrier to this; they are simply refusing to provide what should be a basic option.
One of the largest media companies, DirecTV, is at fault for this, making a business decision not to serve these rural areas. How is this possible? An outdated law called the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization allows companies such as DirecTV to import network broadcast programming rather than negotiating in the free market. This results in providing only the highly rated national shows, such as those based in Los Angeles or New York, rather than broadcasting local news, which is what viewers want. This legislation incentivizes large media companies to cater only to national programs, leaving local and regional news outlets, and viewers, behind.
Companies like DirecTV know this is a disservice to rural communities, because it promised back in 2004 when this legislation was drafted to provide local markets with local news by 2008; yet here we are over 10 years later with no broadband, no-Gs and no local broadcasts: only broken promises.
Congress now has an opportunity to remedy this situation and provide equal access for all communities to their local and regional broadcast television. This subsidy is set to expire at the end of the year, and Congress should let it do just that. Let the subsidy expire and ensure all local broadcast channels are available to all local communities.