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Rural TV viewers jammed by telecom giants; Congress pressured to rubber stamp anti-consumer deal


HERNDON, Virginia�Satellite TV viewers, especially rural viewers, will be the losers if the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and DIRECTV are successful in their lobbying campaign to convince Congress to pass legislation accepting a deal they privately negotiated.

The NAB and DIRECTV have written to Congress asking that their agreement � one resulting in the disconnection of millions of network signals � be codified into law.

"The deal would have Congress turn a deaf ear to constituents who have demanded a change in the antiquated law that forces them to lose their satellite-delivered TV signals," said Bob Phillips, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC). "Consumers are justifiably outraged. On balance, the big broadcasters win. Satellite TV loses, viewers lose, and small and mid-sized broadcasters lose.

"The NRTC stands firmly with viewers who demand fair access to signals and also with small and mid-sized local TV stations that want to provide a local signal via satellite to their local viewers. We have mounted a campaign to amend current legislation to protect rural viewers and see that the broadcast affiliates who serve them are not left out of current telecommunications legislation," Phillips said.

The NAB-DIRECTV deal tells Congress not to mandate a plan for service to rural America.

"This is the same sentiment that prevailed when electricity and telephone service came to the countryside," said Phillips. "If Congress doesn't say local television service is good national policy and push us to get on with the job, it won't get done. There has to be a mandate, some strong direction and a concrete plan. Rural America isn't enjoying the same economic boom as the rest of the country, and we know that access to information is a vital link to economic prosperity. This is no time to deny that access.

"The deal makers would have Congress pass national telecommunications policy that could leave out the very segment of our population most in need of access to information," he added. "It is ironic that rural Americans are being told to accept a 1950s viewing standard while the rest of the country has access to amazing high technology. This agreement would widen the digital divide and leave millions of rural Americans behind on the information superhighway."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently said it needs congressional authority if it is to modernize the TV reception standard and make it more viewer-friendly and less contentious. The NAB-DIRECTV deal would block FCC action for at least five years.

"The NAB and DIRECTV clearly have identified their most lucrative constituencies for special treatment. In the case of the NAB, it is the largest, most powerful affiliates. Similarly, DIRECTV is on record as saying it wants to serve the largest, most populous urban markets but has no plans to serve rural America," Phillips added. "Left behind are hundreds of smaller broadcasters and millions of rural TV viewers," he said.

Is the deal anti-consumer? Here is what the NAB and DIRECTV say Congress should and should not do:

  • Congress should not act to prevent viewer disconnections
  • Congress should bar the FCC from acting to improve TV picture quality standards, but should             not expand the rights of viewers to choose what they watch
  • Congress should limit viewers' choices on the number of signals they can purchase
  • Congress should allow discrimination in pricing to occur, thereby creating the potential for higher costs for smaller providers and smaller markets
  • Congress should not mandate a plan to bring the benefits of digital satellite service to rural broadcasters and the consumers they serve

NRTC has announced that it will immediately begin a nationwide campaign in opposition to the deal, calling on rural viewers to express their feelings to Congress and the White House.

"We believe that a strong national policy that encourages the satellite retransmission of local network signals everywhere, from New York City to Glendive, Montana is what will solve this problem. It's what viewers want. We think it is what Congress will eventually provide and it's what's good for competition. It's too bad the big telecom deal makers don't see it that way," Phillips concluded.

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