U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is asking satellite television providers to ensure that customers across Montana have full access to their local TV stations.
Tester is on the Senate Commerce Committee, which is discussing whether to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, also known as STELAR. That law allows satellite companies to provide customers in areas that don’t receive local stations with “distant network” stations – network TV from New York or Los Angeles.
During a hearing this week, Tester asked Robert Thun, AT&T’s senior vice president of content and programming, to commit to making sure all Montana residents can receive local channels through AT&T’s DirecTV satellite service. Tester said 12 of the 210 media markets nationwide do not currently have access to local stations on DirecTV satellites. Two of those markets – Helena and Glendive – are in Montana.
Thun said, while they don’t provide local stations by satellite in those markets, they do have an alternative. He said DirecTV gives an antenna to viewers who request local channels, so that they can pick them up over-the-air. He said that means the only customers who cannot receive local channels are those who broadcasters are not currently serving.
Dewey Bruce, president and CEO of the Montana Broadcasters Association, said STELAR was a good rule when it was created, but that he believes there is no longer a need for it. He said letting the provision expire could encourage DirecTV to take steps to make sure local stations are available across Montana.
“We think that that’s something that most local people want to do, is they want to be able to see their local news, weather and sports,” Bruce said. “It’s also very important during emergency situations that they can get this information over their regular television, satellite.”
STELAR was originally introduced about 30 years ago, and it must be renewed every five years. It is currently set to expire at the end of the year.