Friday, May 31, 2019

'Orphan counties' complain about rules that mean their 'local' television news comes from other states

Map of TV markets shows Durango, and La Plata and
Montezuma counties, in Albuquerque-Santa Fe market
Many rural counties around the country complain they can't get broadcast news with sports and public affairs from their state because their "local" news comes from another state, under market boundaries determined largely by television station locations, signals and audiences.

La Plata County, in southwestern Colorado, is one of these so-called "orphan counties." Their "local" broadcast, cable and satellite TV news comes from Albuquerque, N.M., over 200 miles away. Residents have complained about it for years. But "La Plata has been in Albuquerque’s Designated Market Area for decades because that’s where Nielsen put it. Nielsen, the private data-analytics company, creates DMAs nationwide, which help set advertising rates and determine the nation’s top media markets," Corey Hutchins notes for Columbia Journalism Review.

In 2016, La Plata County (seat, Durango) became the first local government in the country to petition the Federal Communications Commission for a "market modification," which would allow satellite providers to carry programming from Denver. Albuquerque broadcasters balked because they didn't want to lose viewers, and objected to the petition. They told the FCC that proximity is more important than state lines for determining what viewers need in terms of local programming, Hutchins reports.

La Plata residents submitted hundreds of public comments to the FCC supporting the modification. "We are in desperate need of Denver programming in La Plata County," wrote paralegal Jill Fischer. "How are we expected to be educated voters if the only information we receive comes out of New Mexico?!? We need Colorado news to know what is going on in our state!"

As residents of Durango and the surrounding county wait for the FCC to rule on the petition, some "have found awkward workarounds, from lying to their satellite provider about where they live to taking home a digital antenna from the local public library," Hutchins reports.

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