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FCC Order Lets DBS Modify 'Orphan' Markets

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has circulated for a commissioner vote an order that would allow satellite operators to address the so-called "orphan county" issue. The FCC proposed the change in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking March 26.

That is markets that straddle states and can lead to subscribers getting local stations from those other states rather than from their own. Such gerrymandered markets have been the cause of some consternation on Capitol Hill, particularly when that means constituents not getting the games of the local college football team. (The number of college football references during Hill hearings generally suggests the importance of the issue in Washington, as might FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's pointed references to "The Ohio State").

Responding to a mandate from Congress in the STELAR satellite reauthorization legislation, the item creates a process under which satellite operators can add or delete communities in their markets to "better reflect market realities."

STELAR had told the FCC to reconcile DBS with cable's ability to modify markets, saying it was looking for parity in the ability to receive in-state programming in orphan counties.

"This process has been in place for cable since 1992," Wheeler pointed out in circulating the item, "and this order will extend that process to the satellite market, but will now also allow local governments, as well as broadcasters and satellite providers, to seek changes to markets for purposes of satellite carriage."

Wheeler pointed out that where satellites have the technical ability to do such market modifications to their signals, and where broadcasters agree to it, the order, "in some instances," can address the problem of 'orphan counties' and "allow consumers to receive previously unavailable in-state broadcast programming, including news, public affairs, and sports."