North Dakota Broadcasters Association Repeats DirecTV Request

The North Dakota Broadcasters Association asked the Federal Communications Commission again to set a date by which DirecTV must deliver local stations into all 210 local TV markets.

The NDBA said that request came in response to DirecTV's Jan. 30 proposal to offer those channels as a condition of FCC approval of its merger deal with Liberty Media, although in a method that combines satellite and over-the-air carriage to achieve it.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin supports approving the deal with conditions, including the one offered by DirecTV.

Back when News Corp. bought DirecTV, it also promised to deliver local into local in all markets, but it has not yet done so.

The FCC has been considering the deal for more than one year, and in March 2007, the NDBA filed a petition to deny the deal in which it said that if the commission did not deny it, it should set a date by which the company had to comply. It just repeated that request.

The trade group also argued that DirecTV’s plan was insufficient since rather than delivering all of those signals via satellite, "it requires the customer to bear the burden -- and the considerable expense -- of retrieving the over-the-air digital signal and delivering that signal to his set-top converter box or digital-television set."

The local-into-local issue came up during a House DTV oversight hearing in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, where Martin was asked why he didn't make that hard date a condition of the new deal. He said he thought the solution offered by DirecTV best reflected the will of Congress not to mandate a national fix for local into local, but if Congress wanted to set a hard date, he would support it.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said satellite subscribers in rural areas "are tired of being ignored," adding that DirecTV was only delivering local into local in 142 markets. Martin said DirecTV pledged to deliver to all markets with its hybrid system by the end of the year.

Stupak said he didn't think the satellite-TV operator would be able to get that done, but Martin said it will have to do that if a planned bill is introduced to set a hard date.

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.