NAB Won't Oppose Some Grandfathering Of Distant Signals

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Speaking for the National Association of Broadcasters, Meredith Broadcasting Group President and NAB TV Board Chairman Paul Karpowicz plans to tell Senators at a Communications Subcommittee hearing Wednesday that broadcasters won't oppose letting satellite broadcasters deliver distant signals to viewers who might not now qualify since the digital switch.

The committee will be hearing from witnesses on the Satellite TV Modernization Act, the latest name for the bill to reauthorize the satellite compulsory license that permits the important of distant TV network affiliate signals into markets that can't get a viewable signal of a local affiliate of the same network.

"In the spirit of compromise, we will not oppose satellite carriers retaining their existing lawful distant signal subscribers who were unable to receive a Grade B analog signal from a local network station--even though those subscribers may now (post digital transition) receive a perfectly good digital network signal from that same local network station," said Karpowicz, according to a copy of his prepared testimony.

But Karpowicz also said that NAB does not support allowing the importation of a distant stand-alone digital signal (that had no analog complement) or a multicast version of a network affliate if viewers can now get a local digital version.

Broadcasters don't want the reauthorization--which has to pass by the end of the year of the law sunsets--to become an excuse for "re-opening a range of well-established retransmission consent issues."

They also don't want the bill to allow satellite operators and cable operators to import adjacent-market affiliates to address the so-called split-market issue. That is where a market crosses state lines and satellite operators want to be able to deliver, say, a North Carolina station to a North Carolina viewer in a market served by South Carolina stations.

Karpowicz said he understands the concerns of legislators pushing for that adjacent-market importation--those include giving constituents access to their local sports teams and cutting down on waste circulation from political ads.

But he said it was not good public policy, and unnecessary since stations can and do strike deals to deliver local programming to adjacent markets, just not the national and syndicated programming that duplicates an in-market affiliate.

"My point can be illustrated by WHNS, a station Meredith operates in Greenville, South Carolina," he told the committee in his testimony. "Thirty-four percent of the households in its Designated Market Area (DMA) are located in North Carolina and four percent in Georgia. WHNS provides locally-attuned service to those North Carolina and Georgia communities, just as it does to the South Carolina communities within its coverage area. The nearest North Carolina city of license to these North Carolina counties is Charlotte, which is 95 miles away from Spotsylvania County, N.C. Greenville is only 25 miles away."

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved the bill -- it shares jurisiction over the reauthorization bill--while a House Communications Subcommittee has passed its own, slightly different, version.

The House version allows Dish network to get back into the distant-signal business--it has an arms-length deal with a third party per a court order--in exchange for delivering the local stations in all 210 markets. The Senate version has no such provision.

The two bills will ultimately have to be reconciled.