Boucher: Negotiated Solution to Delivering Signals to Split Markets Necessary

Broadcasters and multichannel video providers need to come up with a negotiated solution to the problem of delivering TV signals to so-called "split markets," or one will likely be imposed by Congress. That is the message from Rick Boucher (D-VA), chairman of the House Communications, Technology & Internet Subcommittee.

Boucher, speaking at a National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership conference in Washington Tuesday, said he understood broadcaster's concerns, but that there would need to be some fix to the split-market issue.

As part of its consideration of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA), Boucher's subcommittee is considering modifying the distant signal rules to allow satellite, and potentially cable, to import signals from adjacent markets in certain cases, including so-called "split markets" where the market crosses state lines and viewers in part of the market are getting stations from the neighboring state.

Broadcasters argue that cable operators can already negotiate for carriage of the local news and sports on adjacent-market stations to rectify that problem, but that changing the law to allow them to import network and syndicated programming duplicates programming already in the market.

Boucher said he would try to pass the most narrow version possible of the SHVERA act, without "collateral issues" like retransmission consent reform (heavy applause from the broadcaster crowd). But he said a couple of issues would inevitably come before the committee. One was allowing the importation of signals from adjacent markets to markets that lack that particular network affiliate signal, which is not controversial and which he supports. Another, he said, was making sure that satellite operators carry TV stations in all 210 local markets (more applause). "I frankly have a feeling that unless we have a statutory mandate, the time may never come," saying that statutory requirement is "the best thing we can do."

There remain about 30 markets where satellite operators have yet to deliver local signals--usually because they are too small to get a return on the expense of delivering the service, EchoStar, for one, has pointed out. But one of those markets is in Boucher's district.

The other unavoidable issue is adjacent-market signals, or split markets, he said. Boucher said he understood that allowing the carte blanche importation of adjacent-market signals "could be very disruptive of our tradition of giving broadcasters dominance in their DMA's," but he said that the "unfortunate reality" is that if a proposal by Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) to allow that importation were put to a vote today, "it would very likely pass."

"In the instance of markets that straddle state lines, we have a necessity to find a solution," said Boucher. "Rep. Ross has strong support for his provision, but I think there are ways that his needs can be met, and broadcasters needs can also be met. But that only comes with a conversation involving all of the relevant parties."

He did not have any suggestions for solutions himself, but said that what was needed was "a negotiated solution in which we find a way that satisfies the core concerns that he has addressed. And there are probably a number of innovative ways to do that. But at the same time preserves to the greatest possible extent the traditional dominance of local broadcasters within their DMA's."

John Eggerton

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.