By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Do you take your satellite broadcasts with you when you travel? Plenty of on-the-road RVers do, keeping up with their local news and information, as well as their favorite shows. But having that local feed while far away could vanish if Congress doesn’t take positive action to, as Captain Picard says, “Make it so.”
The ability to get local broadcasts via satellite feed while away from that “market area” is made possible by a few lines in the U.S. Copyright Act. Section 119 of the act allows satellite providers to cross over market lines and provide access to out-of-area viewers. Without the provision, it would be flat illegal for the satellite provider to do it. It’s legal now, but come the end of the year, the provision “sunsets,” meaning, your hometown news may just vanish from your satellite feed.
On July 29 a letter was sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to vote to preserve the provision of the copyright law that allows DIRECTV and DISH Network to provide Distant Network Signals to RVers and others. The letter was drafted by groups representing RVers, RV manufacturers and dealers, and other groups representing the RV park and campground industry.
To RVers and other users, this would seem like a shoo-in vote. But don’t bet the farm – there are plenty of opposers. On Tuesday, July 30, just a few days after the RV-friendly letter was sent to the committee, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Karyn Temple, appeared before the committee and asked the group to allow the Section 119 loophole to simply die.
Backing her opinion is the writing of Rep. Jared Golden (D-Me.) in a letter referring to the sunsetting of Section 119. In the letter, addressed to the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees, Golden wrote, “It is clear that the distant signal license has outlived its usefulness.”
Others have gone so far as to suggest that the Section 119 allowance somehow does a disservice to RVers and other traveling satellite-TV users. In a web story carried by broadcastingcable.com comes this quote: “The distant signal license may also negatively impact subscribers: several Members of Congress recently expressed concern that the Section 119 compulsory license provides satellite operators with a financial incentive to deny subscribers local broadcast stations—including the news, weather, and emergency information carried by those local broadcast stations—and instead import distant broadcasts at below-market rates.”
A news release from the groups coming up to bat for the continuation of Section 119 lay out this argument. “Through the establishment and regular re-authorization of Section 119, Congress has recognized that providing local signals via satellite to an RVer in every market into which they travel is impractical, both technically, and from the standpoint of clearing the rights.
“RVers represent a unique segment of the population who regularly travel to areas where broadcast signals to watch television over-the-air are not available or where the wireless broadband to receive over-the-top services such as Nextflix and Hulu are also not available.
“If Congress fails to reauthorize Section 119, these RVers will lose access to the network signals resulting in a negative impact on quality of life, safety and security for the millions of RVers who rely on this law.”
Where the future of the extension of Section 119 lies is anything but clear. In fact, you might even say the view is anything but staticky. Much depends on whose signals Congress deems the most believable.