In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) adopted last Thursday, the FCC launched proceedings to consider rules by which direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operators and TV broadcasters could request modifications to a local broadcast station’s market area for the purpose of enhancing satellite carriage of broadcast TV signals.  

Adopted unanimously by the FCC’s five commissioners, the NPRM seeks to implement Section 102 of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELARA).  Section 102 of STELARA mandates the establishment of options for DBS subscribers living in Nielsen-designated market areas (DMA) whose major urban centers lie across state borders to receive more localized programming. The NPRM concludes tentatively that the statutory directive “is intended to favor a market modification to add a community if doing so would increase consumer access to in-state programming.”  

As proposed in the NPRM, requests for market modification would be treated as “special relief” petitions and would contain the following elements:  (1) maps of community locations, broadcast transmitter sites, and local multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) facilities, (2) maps depicting digital or analog Grade B television service contours, (3) statistical data on shopping and labor patterns within the market in question, (4) broadcast station program information and MVPD channel lineups, and (5) audience data.  Petitioners would be required to serve requests for market modification on MVPDs, broadcast station licensees and other parties that are “likely to be directly affected if the relief requested is granted.”  Comment is requested on the definition of “community” for purposes of market modification and on various other issues that include technical and economic impediments.  One issue is whether broadcasters should be able to seek an initial determination from MVPDs on whether the proposed modified carriage would be technically or economically feasible.  

Approving the NPRM, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that, in spite of improved availability of information across a variety of platforms, “old problems linger” for some DBS subscribers who are limited to viewing out-of-state stations and therefore lack access to local broadcast news, weather and emergency information.  Asserting, “there is no logical reason why we can modify the local market of a cable operator but not that of a satellite operator,” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn applauded the NPRM as “the first step toward ensuring that consumers of satellite television operators are able to watch the local programming that matters to them most.”