Pay-TV's 'reform' gamemanship bad play for rural America

U.S. ranchers, farmers and residents across rural America depend on reliable and continual access to broadcast television news and programs.  Access is critical to maintain connection with not only the greater international and national scope of news and information, but also local and regional news outlets.  From weather and agriculture reports to major news and sports, local TV is at home on the range and on the farm.

Members of the US Cattlemen’s Association value broadcast TV and support the efforts by local TV stations to receive fair compensation from the cable and satellite companies. The large cable and satellite companies maintain strong profit margins by packaging free local TV with cable programs and retransmitting it as a component of their paid for TV packages.

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Like any producer in a supply chain, it makes sense that these local TV stations be properly compensated for their services.  Maintaining the “retransmission consent” provision secures funding for the local news and public affairs programming upon which so many of our rural citizens rely.

Currently, cable packages across the country ensure viewers have access to local TV programing.   However, Congress is contemplating legislation that could eliminate the current structure and provide a pathway for cable and satellite companies to remove this provision and instead force viewers to pay additional fees for local viewing access.

Local TV connects America, plain and simple.  Often times it’s the sole communications infrastructure connecting rural and urban communities.  High-speed broadband and wireless cell phone coverage is still very limited in rural America.  Local TV remains a steady, easy and accessible source for agriculture news, markets, and emergency communications regarding fires, flood and weather.

As a 5th generation Montana rancher, I know it’s essential that my family and fellow ranchers and farmers across the country continue to have access to up-to-the-minute local weather alerts and emergency information as provided through broadcast television.  This access affects both our bottom line and safety.

From cattle producers to broadcast TV producers, Congressional action that undercuts the value of the production chain is never the right course of action.  Simply put, profits for the cable companies should not take precedence over free access to local programming, emergency alerts and weather warnings which should remain outlets available to all whether they receive it via free over-the-air broadcast TV or a pay-TV service on the basic tier.

Peterson is executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.