AT&T has struck a multi-year deal with Fox to continue to deliver its TV stations via DirecTV after the sunset of the blanket license.
AT&T said it has been negotiating with all the networks to continue to deliver signals to truckers, RVs and others after Congress passed a bill, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act, that ended the blanket license June 1, requiring AT&T to negotiate individual deals if it wanted to continue to import distant network TV signals to markets and subs who lacked a local version.
Fox is the first deal to get done.
“It is critical for our customers to be able to access network TV programming, especially during this global pandemic,” said AT&T EVP Federal Relations Tim McKone. “With this agreement, essential workers, like those on oil rigs and long-haul truckers, can stay connected with news and information. We appreciate FOX for putting the interests of consumers first and we hope the other networks follow suit.”
AT&T has been asking for an extension of that deadline until Jan. 1, 2021, rather than having to cut off the signals during the pandemic.
AT&T could also have preserved the blanket license by agreeing to deliver local signals to a dozen small markets.
Unlike cable operators, satellite operators have no must-carry requirement, though if they carry any local stations they must carry them all. AT&T has chosen not to deliver stations in a dozen of the smallest markets via DirecTV, instead importing distant network signals and offering an over-the-air option for local stations alongside its satellite service.
Late last year, STELAR, which allowed satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals to viewers who lacked them, including truckers, RV users and tailgaters on the go, short markets lacking one or more affiliate, and viewers whose market had an affiliate but who could not get a viewable signal. It got those signals at a blanket license rate, and did not have to negotiate with TV stations for them, which it now must do, and has been trying to do.
The legislation extended the compulsory license for truckers, RV users and tailgaters and those in short markets, until May 31, 2020.
Broadcasters, when they were pushing for a STELAR sunset, did express their their willingness to provide a glide path for the sunset. But they also said that AT&T could solve the issue and get a permanent blanket license by serving the last dozen or so markets with local signals as Dish does.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.