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Article published Apr 16, 2014

Udall, FCC commissioner discuss Denver TV

Udall, FCC commissioner here to discuss issue
Photo by: JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall listens to Alison Minea, DISH Network director and senior counsel of regulatory affairs, while FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Colorado Broadcasters Association President and CEO Justin Sasso look on during a Wednesday meeting in Durango.

By Chuck Slothower Herald staff writer

Southwest Colorado’s plea for Denver TV broadcasts is getting more attention in Washington.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel met Wednesday in Durango to discuss possible solutions to the impasse that has blocked many local residents from receiving Denver TV news channels and, not incidentally, Denver Broncos football games.

La Plata County residents long have complained they get what one attendee at Wednesday’s forum described as “if it bleeds, it leads” journalism from Albuquerque-based TV news stations.

Among the roadblocks to Denver TV are resistance from New Mexico broadcasters, who don’t want to lose viewers in Southwest Colorado who support advertising revenue, and The Nielsen Co., the private New York-based company that determines TV market areas.

“The general sense is legislation is probably necessary for a long-term solution,” Udall said at the forum held at the Durango School District 9-R administration building.

Udall last year helped forge an agreement with KASA, Albuquerque’s Fox affiliate, to broadcast Denver Broncos games in Southwest Colorado. But Udall, who is seeking re-election this year, described that as a temporary fix, and it doesn’t address the desire for news and weather carried by Denver TV broadcasts.

Rosenworcel said La Plata and Montezuma are among several “orphan counties” around the nation that receive TV broadcasts from another state. She said her parents in Vermont complain about receiving TV news from New York.

Rosenworcel, who is one of the FCC’s five powerful commissioners, said she’s sympathetic to La Plata and Montezuma County residents who receive Albuquerque TV.

“I don’t think that’s right,” she said. However, Rosenworcel added, “I can’t tell you that there’s an easy solution.”

Dixie Palmer of Durango said she’s better informed about events in New Mexico than in her own state because of where Durango falls on Nielsen’s maps.

“I know everything about what goes on in New Mexico. I don’t know anything about what goes on in Colorado,” she said. “I know everything about the governor of New Mexico. I don’t know anything about the governor of Colorado. When it comes to elections, I don’t even know who to vote for. You’d think the politicians would want us to know who they are so we can vote for them.”

Nielsen did not immediately respond to an interview request Wednesday.

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said not receiving Denver TV compromises local residents’ ability to be informed.

“It’s important for me and my constituents to know what’s happening in Denver at the Statehouse,” she said. “For me, in my role personally, it’s not about Broncos games at all.”

Joanne Spina, assistant county manager, said it could be a safety issue.

“We feel compromised in emergency-management situations,” she said.

The Denver TV issue has generated plenty of controversy but little action. Wanda Cason, a local Udall staff member, showed the officials a petition containing 2,000 signatures asking for Denver TV. The signatures were gathered in 2007-09 in a drive led by local resident Paulette Church, Cason said.

On Wednesday, Justin Sasso, president and CEO of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, presented a letter signed by seven Colorado TV station managers indicating their willingness to be shown by DIRECTV and DISH Network.

He pleaded against a change in law, saying a private solution is preferable.

Alison Minea, a DISH attorney who spoke at the forum, said it’s not so easy. Capacity issues make it difficult to show the stations. Carrying only the news programming, and having a blackout the rest of the day, isn’t the best solution, either, she said.

Minea suggested legislation may be necessary.

“This is probably not a solution that is going to come from private providers,” she said.

There may be one ray of hope: The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010, known as STELA, comes up for reauthorization in coming months. The reauthorization debate could be an opportunity to insert language to address Southwest Colorado’s situation.

cslothower@durangoherald.com