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New Bill Would Allow Distant TV Signal Importation

A pair of legislators have introduced a bill that would change the distant-signal rules in 47% of the TV markets in the country.

The Television Freedom Act, sponsored by Reps. Mike Ross (D-AR) and Barbara Cubin (R-WY), would allow cable operators to import TV station signals from adjacent DMAs (Nielsen Designated Market Areas) particularly in areas where those DMA's cross state lines.

The FCC would have to revise its network nonduplication, syndicated exclusivity, and sports blackout rules to accommodate the change.

Currently, cable operators are prevented from importing "distant" TV station signals into markets where customers can get a viewable signal from a local station carrying the same programming. "However, because so many of the DMA boundaries cross state lines, millions of subscribers are left watching the local channels of their neighboring state," said Ross in a statement.

The American Cable Association ( praised the bill. "“The ACA applauds Reps. Mike Ross (D-AR) and Barbara Cubin (R-WY) for introducing this bipartisan legislation that expands consumer access to in-state broadcast stations," Said ACA President Matthew Polka, "which provide in-state information about news, elections, government, and weather."

According to Robert Shema, ACA VP/COO, one example of a gerrymandered DMA is in Ross' home state, where some Arkansans in the Memphis, Tenn., DMA are deprived of Arkansas Razorback football. But Shema says there is a similar issue with numerous cable operators serving outyling areas.

NAB was taking a "wait and review" attitude to the bill: "While we continue to review Reps. Ross and Cubin's bill," read a statement, "NAB would have serious concerns with any legislative attempt to disrupt the concept of localism, which for decades has enabled television stations to provide local audiences with timely news, weather, sports, entertainment and emergency information that viewers have come to rely on."