WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The right incentives would make satellite television companies willing to extend local service to underserved and rural areas, senior executives of DISH Network Corp and DirecTV Group Inc told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Congress is debating renewal of a law that gives the two national satellite television companies the right to carry and retransmit broadcast television programing.
Some lawmakers say the renewal of the law should also require satellite television companies to provide local service in all 210 designated market areas nationwide. Currently, rural residents in about 30 of those markets cannot receive local news and weather programing via satellite subscriptions, according to Representative Rick Boucher, chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee.
DISH Network CEO Charles Ergen told a subcommittee hearing that DISH is willing to provide that local programing if it gets help to pay for technical fixes needed for retransmission.
Local television stations with local content should be required to allow the retransmission for free, or for a fixed royalty rate, Ergen said. Stations without truly local content — Ergen estimated that number at 15 to 20 percent — should be excluded from retransmission requirements, he said.
“We would love to be able to do it with the right incentives,” said Ergen.
DirecTV Senior Vice President Bob Gabrielli said some broadcast stations had been raising their rates.
“Broadcasters now routinely demand fees three times those previously paid. And it does not appear that this additional money is being used to provide more or better local programing,” he said. “Many broadcasters are producing less and less local news.”
Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat on the panel, expressed frustration with satellite providers, saying residents of his town, Marquette, could not see local matters such as school closings despite promises from satellite companies that the situation would be fixed.
“All these promises that we get from these guys, but you never seem to fulfill it,” Stupak said. He has introduced a bill to require satellite TV companies to carry local broadcasting in all markets, arguing that the companies ignore less populated regions.
Boucher said the law up for renewal was created to help satellite television companies compete against cable television service and offer consumers more programing choices.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Brian Moss