There are few things Utahns love more than watching football. From Labor Day weekend to Super Bowl Sunday, we gather with family and friends to watch the big game and cheer on our favorite teams. Understandably, we take for granted the ability to sit down on the couch, turn on the television and find high-definition coverage of our favorite teams. However, the possible expiration later this year of a key piece of legislation could jeopardize all that for hundreds of thousands of Americans across rural parts of the country, including people right here in Utah.
Two key provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) are set to expire at the end of this year, and Congress must take action to ensure that more than 870,000 Americans don’t lose access to some or all of their network television programming, including consumers in our state.
It’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of STELAR, but Americans across the country count on it for access to something most of us take for granted every day. STELAR enables satellite providers to offer out-of-market broadcast signals in limited circumstances. The expiration of certain parts of STELAR would affect a wide range of people who obtain their programming from satellite provides: from rural consumers in areas where an over-the-air antenna does not work, to markets lacking one of the four major local broadcast networks, to tailgaters at sporting events, to recreational vehicle and camping enthusiasts, and even long-haul truckers.
Another significant provision of STELAR set to expire at the end of 2019 requires broadcasters and pay-TV providers to negotiate in good faith. Without this key provision, tens of millions of pay-TV consumers could pay more, and even more unnecessary local station blackouts could occur.
In the last decade, local broadcasters have leveraged existing video law to pull their programming from the lineups of tens of millions of consumers in an effort to extract ever-higher fees. Notably, some of those blackouts have occurred right here in Utah. Without reform of these outdated laws, consumers paying for satellite and cable services could continue to turn on the TV looking for their favorite programs only to be greeted with blackout messages. Nobody wants that.
Timing is also critical. Local broadcasters do not have a solution for American TV viewers who will lose access because many rural and remote locations are not reached with over-the-air signals.
To protect consumers, particularly those in rural areas found across Utah, I strongly encourage members of Utah’s congressional delegation to stand up on behalf of the thousands of Utahns who depend on the renewal of STELAR for access to network television programming that so many of us take for granted. Let’s not leave them in the dark. Renew STELAR today.
Tara Thue is AT&T’s President of the Mountain West States for external and legislative affairs.