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Denver TV

New FCC rule gives counties voice in seeking in-state network coverage

It is not likely a coincidence that the impending onset of the National Football League’s regular season coincided with the Federal Communications Commission’s issuing a rule allowing far-flung counties such as La Plata to petition the agency to receive network television broadcasts from a particular market. In this case, that market is Denver, whose beloved Broncos will kick off regular season play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. The game will air on CBS, but there is no guarantee that La Plata County viewers will be able to tune it in. Several generations of local, state and federal lawmakers have aimed to change that, and the FCC’s new rule provides some hope in the quest.

La Plata and Montezuma counties are currently lumped in to the Albuquerque media market, making that city’s local channels the network affiliates broadcast to viewers in Southwest Colorado. Never mind state lines, the grouping is related to market shares and total number of viewers – a formula developed by Nielsen, a private company that tracks viewer behavior and media markets – and blessed by the FCC. For several decades, no amount of cajoling by Southwest Colorado viewers – or their representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate – could effect change. The tide is at last turning.

The FCC will now consider requests from counties such as La Plata and Montezuma to receive Denver TV in lieu of that broadcast from regions less relevant to this community’s political, news and, of course, sports concerns. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, and Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, have pushed hard on the effort – as did Gardner’s predecessor, Mark Udall, D-Boulder. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, has also advocated for the shift in market share policy – and his predecessor John Salazar, D-Manassa, did as well. This has been an endurance game which, for years, showed little progress. Now that localities orphaned in the media market world by their geography have been given a voice of their own, the FCC should listen carefully to their chorus.

While Albuquerque is certainly this region’s closest metropolitan area, the news and advertising – particularly that broadcast during election cycles – are not relevant to the decisions Southwest Coloradans must make. Mileage aside, La Plata and Montezuma counties are firmly within Colorado’s boundaries and the information broadcast in those counties should reflect that. The FCC is slowly recognizing the mismatch here, and the new rule is an important step toward rectifying the problem. Next, the satellite companies must respond in kind.

Despite efforts from Colorado stations to have their programming broadcast through the various satellite services in the region, the companies have demurred in favor of “continuing the important discussion,” and other such non-action actions. It is time for a change, and the FCC – not known as a particularly spry or fast-acting agency – has opened a window that content-providers must now climb through.

Colorado is a diverse state – geographically and politically, among other variables. West Slope communities are, by their location and personality, quite different from the Front Range. Access to information about issues of the day is critical to unifying the state – at least in knowledge, if not opinion – and local television programming a key component of that effort. Plus, it’s football season.

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