Last month, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King wrote to their colleagues in leadership positions on the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation with concerns that cable subscribers in Presque Isle do not have access to their local broadcast channels.
“Although there is no technological limitation, AT&T/DirecTV is providing subscribers with broadcast channels from outside the state rather than those from more local broadcast stations in Presque Isle or even the Bangor or Portland-Auburn markets,” the senators wrote. “This is unacceptable and denies these viewers access to critically important in-state news, weather, and emergency information.”
The committees are in the process of considering the reauthorization of The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR). Introduced over 30 years ago to give new satellite companies a competitive advantage against the big cable companies, STELAR allows satellite companies to nix local broadcasting stations in favor of out-of-market stations. Today, DIRECTV is a $235 billion company and can afford to allow its customers the ability to view their local broadcasters.
Local news is especially important in rural areas, where reporters are often on the front lines of what is happening in the community. Farmers rely on these daily reports to make important decisions regarding their crops and livestock, planting, harvesting, and conditioning. Access to local news improves rural quality of life and keeping viewers engaged and informed in their communities.
With approximately 9,000 residents in Presque Isle, it becomes even more important to maintain that connectivity throughout the community. For customers of DIRECTV, local news stations from Maine are noticeably absent despite promises made in 2004 to bring local news stations to every market.
STELAR enables DIRECTV to neglect these viewers, but this law is set to expire at the end of 2019. Collins and King are correctly recommending that Congress should allow this expiration to take place. Its provisions are outdated and prohibiting local news stations from reaching their target audience.
The Maine Association of Broadcasters and the National Association of Broadcasters have both expressed support for the senators’ letter.
New England Farmers Union applauds both senators for standing up for local broadcasters and the rural Maine residents they serve. The initiative of both Collins and King in bringing attention to this issue demonstrates their service to Maine’s rural communities, beyond the population centers.
Mary Castonguay is vice president of New England Farmers Union. She is a dairy farmer and co-owner of Castonguay Ayrshires in Livermore.