FCC Gives Hart County, Ga., Access to Atlanta TV Stations

The FCC has agreed to modify the Atlanta designated market area to allow four Atlanta stations to be imported into Hart County, Ga. Hart is a previously "orphan" county that, because it was in a South Carolina Nielsen market (Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson), got network affiliates from that state rather than Georgia.

In the 2014 STELAR satellite license reauthorization, the FCC extended its potential fix for cable orphan counties--ones placed in Nielsen markets in another state--to satellite carriage as well. Broadcasters or satellite operators or county officials can all petition for the modification.

In this case, county officials petitioned to get their residents access to TV stations in the Atlanta market. No Atlanta stations opposed that market modification, the FCC said.
Not so the network-affiliated stations in Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson, S.C., which did oppose the signal importation. The South Carolina stations argued the FCC had not established that the Atlanta stations wanted to be imported to viewers in that market, or that the programming imported would be targeted to Hart County viewers.

"For the reasons set forth below, we find that it is feasible for both Dish and DirecTV to carry WSB-TV, WXIA, WAGA and WGCL throughout the County," the FCC said. "We further conclude that the evidence weighs in favor of expanding the markets for each of the Stations to include the County. We therefore modify the markets of the Stations to include Hart County, Georgia." 

The commission pointed out that neither Dish Network nor DirecTV said the modification was infeasible. STELAR has a carveout for cases of technical or economic infeasibility given the difference between cable and satellite technologies.

Hart County had also pointed out that with the upcoming elections, Hart residents would be denied access to Georgia debates and public affairs programming if the modification were not granted. While the South Carolina affiliates argued they already provide news relevant to Georgia residents, "it is clear from the comments supporting the modification that Hart County residents consider this coverage to be inadequate," the FCC said.

The FCC said the market modification was a close call, but that it has concluded that in such close-call cases, "the outcome that best serves the intent of Congress...is to provide the petitioning orphan county with the access to in-state programming it is requesting."

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.