The FCC just issued a Report to Congress concerning the access of television viewers to in-state television stations. This report was requested by Congress as part of STELA (the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act), which extended the compulsory license for direct to home satellite television operators (DISH and DirecTV) – a license which gives them copyright clearances to retransmit all the programming transmitted by the broadcast television stations that they make available as part of their service packages. Congress also requested a Report from the Copyright Office on the need for the compulsory license – a report also issued this week, which we will write about in another article. The issue of access to in-state television stations has been a controversial issue, as several Congressmen have sought (and in a few cases actually received) legislative authority for cable providers to carry out-of-market television stations on cable systems serving areas in one state that are part of television markets where the television stations come from a different state. The report refers to these areas as "orphan counties." Once legislative authority was granted in one state, many other bills popped up in Congress trying for the same relief in their state – causing concern that the existing television markets (or Designated Market Areas or "DMAs", designated by the Nielsen Company) might be undermined. To see what impact such changes would have, Congress requested this report from the FCC.
The report for the most part does not make recommendations, but instead simply provides information about the service provided to US television viewers, the potential options for bringing an in-state service to all viewers, and the issues that such proposals would raise. Perhaps the most interesting fact revealed by the report is that 99.98% of all US television households already have access to an in-state television station, either over-the-air or through a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (e.g. cable or satellite TV system), so this is a very isolated issue. However,when the FCC sought comments on the issues discussed in the report, a number of individuals in particular DMAs responded about situations where they could not get access to in-state television stations and asked that something be done. The report assesses the implications of any action that could be taken.