Congress Must Act Now to Preserve TV Broadcast Coverage and Programming in Rural America

By at 20 April, 2020, 1:17 pm

Delay the Distant Signal License Expiration to December 31, 2020

By Karen Kerrigan-

Congress failed to renew a vital provision of STELAR – the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization – last year, instead choosing to let the distant network signal license expire this year. As a result, on May 31st, many households, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in rural communities nationwide will lose vital access to broadcast networks and news. Thousands of consumers – including many in rural areas – will be affected.

The distant network signal license allows satellite TV companies to provide broadcast network coverage in markets that would not otherwise have access to one or more national local network affiliates. Now that Congress has allowed the distant signal license provision of STELAR to expire, hundreds of thousands of rural Americans, small businesses in rural areas  – as well as long-haul truckers, RV and camper enthusiasts, tailgaters and others who may be underserved by local broadcasters – will lose access to major networks like CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX.

There is never a good time to cut off access to critical broadcast programming in already remote, rural communities. And especially now – as our country grapples with the public health, social, and economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic – it would be dangerous and improper to disrupt access to vital information and other programming.

Congress should act swiftly to preserve access to vital programming by delaying the expiration of the Copyright Act’s distant network signal license to December 31, 2020.

During this unfolding national emergency, Americans are turning to major broadcast networks for COVID-19 news and important public health information. This is an uncertain and ever-evolving period of time for our nation and for communities across the U.S., which makes access to this kind of coverage and information more important than ever. When hundreds of thousands of consumers – residential and commercial alike – suddenly find themselves cut off from critical sources of news and information, it will be because Congress did not act to protect them, plain and simple.

The distant signal license is important for America’s rural small businesses and entrepreneurs, as it helps ensure access to the modern television market at fair and reasonable prices. Losing that access could have a significant impact on their livelihoods; many small businesses are already in a precarious economic situation, as they do their part to protect public health by closing or significantly reducing their operations. Preserving the distant network signal license is not only vital for business owners, it will be necessary for at-risk businesses to have a shot at speedy recovery once the COVID-19 health crisis is behind us.

SBE Council’s mission is to protect small businesses, spur business growth and strengthen economic conditions across the U.S., and that very much includes rural and underserved communities. As such, we are calling on Congress to extend the expiration date of the distant signal license to at least December 31, 2020.

This change will help to ensure that vulnerable Americans and struggling businesses have every opportunity and the information they need to navigate this challenging time, which includes maintaining access to critical broadcast network programming throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.



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