Who determines the rules for delivery of local and distant network programming?

Both cable and satellite providers answer to government regulators, consumers and station owners when determining lineups for various programming packages. Stations must consent to having their programs rebroadcast, and consumer opinion plays an important role in which stations television providers choose to air. However, the Federal Communications Commission regulates all broadcasts, and Congress passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act to ensure that television providers include local stations for people who can’t get strong local signals over the airwaves.

STELA regulates how providers retransmit broadcast network affiliate stations.

Congress approved the STELA law in 2010, and the FCC enforces its provisions. Sponsored by Senator John Kerry and Senator Jay Rockefeller, the law addresses the thorny issue of including local broadcast stations in cable packages. Most people choose cable or satellite packages instead of relying on broadcast television, but many companies weren’t including local stations in their programming packages, so the law was passed to protect local stations.

Explore the differences Between LIL and DNS Programming.

Viewers can best understand television providers’ programming choices by learning about LIL and DNS broadcasts. Distant Network Signals broadcast network shows from CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC, but programming involves network affiliates that are based in Los Angeles or New York.

DNS programming

  • People who live in areas that don’t have local affiliates of major networks can get DNS programs so that they have access to all the networks.
  • Frequent travelers arrange access to these stations when traveling away from their homes for long periods.
  • Viewers can request access to DNS stations by filling out the appropriate DNS paperwork, which they can request from their provider representatives.
  • Some people want to access DNS stations from their cars, boats, recreational vehicles or second homes.

Local into Local programming consists of network affiliates that rebroadcast network shows but include local news, sports and community programming. Most cities have local stations that are affiliated with each of the major networks. Federal regulations require that any television provider that offers LIL shows must include all the networks that broadcast network programming in the area.

LIL programming

  • Local news programs face uncertainties because people can get their news online, so newscasts focus increasingly on local sports, weather and traffic.
  • Certain channels broadcast stories that interest people in local viewing areas, so Congress has mandated that television providers include these stations for cable subscribers.
  • Although the big four networks are ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, many providers also include PBS.
  • In areas where cable providers offer LIL service, providers can’t offer DNS unless a subscriber qualifies under the “no distant where local rule.”

What is the “no distant where local rule?”

Cable and satellite television providers can’t offer DNS service when a local affiliate exists that broadcasts the same network’s programs. In the past, many satellite providers didn’t give their viewers an option for receiving local stations, and the STELA law was passed to ensure that local stations would remain viable and that people could get local stations in their programming packages.

Understand the rules about what kind of stations viewers get from providers.

Subscribers need to meet strict requirements to qualify for either LIL or DNS programming options. Most people qualify for popular LIL broadcasts that feature local shows, news and entertainment. Receiving DNS substitute programming requires that viewers meet one of five conditions:

  1. Subscribers must live in a remote area that is not served by a network affiliate.
  2. Distant networks must be popular choices of viewers in the applicable region.
  3. Subscribers must get service through a satellite dish that is attached to a commercial vehicle or RV.
  4. Viewers obtain their service through C-band satellite dishes.
  5. Subscribers are residents of Vermont, Mississippi or New Hampshire.

How changes occur in television programming packages.

Television providers periodically update their subscription packages to reflect evolving consumer tastes, population changes and contractual difficulties and opportunities. By law, cable and satellite companies must obtain permission before rebroadcasting any station’s programming, and local stations can change their affiliations once every three years. Stations that qualify for “must-carry” status give their implicit agreement to rebroadcasts, and other complex formulas affect programming choices.

  • The Communications Act requires that television providers with 12 or fewer stations carry at least three local stations.
  • Providers with more than 12 stations must make one-third of their lineups local stations that come from within 50 miles of subscribers.
  • Cable systems that carry between 13 and 36 stations must include one educational or noncommercial station.
  • New stations or stations that cease operations could affect which channels providers offer in subscription packages.

Broadcast stations and state or local rules could also affect which stations are offered in particular markets. Consumers often think that television providers choose channels haphazardly, but companies follow complex rules and consumer trends to determine what stations they offer in each subscription market.

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