Late Thursday afternoon, by a vote of 375-37, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Rural Local Broadcast Signal Act (H.R. 3615), a bill that would extend loan guarantees to companies willing to provide rural communities with access to local television via satellite.
"For rural communities around the country, local television is about more than entertainment," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX). "In addition to network programming and sports, they are often dependent on local news for emergency information regarding weather and natural disasters. For farmers and ranchers, this information is even more vital to their livelihoods. This legislation will help ensure that these communities have equal access to local television."
H.R. 3615 would authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture to guarantee up to $1.25 billion in loans for providing local broadcast signals to rural areas. In addition, providers may offer other services, such as internet access, if they have excess capacity. This legislation is similar to legislative language removed from last year's Satellite Home Viewer Act (HR 1554).
"I am extremely pleased with today's passage of the Rural Local Broadcast Signal Act. Over six million satellite dish owners who live in rural areas as well as medium and small cities and towns across the United States will no longer be denied access to their local news, sports coverage, weather, and emergency information," stated Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) who sponsored H.R. 3615. "Americans living in all areas, including Southwest Virginia, must have access to the same telecommunications services, including network television, as urban areas. The Rural Local Broadcast Signal Act helps folks obtain local broadcast signals by satellite and ensures that satellite becomes a competitive alternative for consumers."
Local TV via satellite is already available to satellite subscribers in America's twenty largest television markets. In these markets, the existing satellite "platform providers" have begun retransmission of local network affiliates. They have also announced their intention to begin retransmission of local TV stations in an additional twenty or thirty television markets over the next two years.
Nevertheless, there will still be at least 160 unserved markets in the United States, depriving more than fifty percent of existing satellite subscribers (over six million households) of their local TV stations. More than sixty percent of existing commercial television stations will not be available; and more than thirty million households will remain beyond the reach of local television via satellite. If nothing is done, local TV via satellite will not be available in 27 states, nor in parts of nearly every state.