Tester Grills Media Executives on Failure to Bring Local Broadcasting to Montana Markets

Senator: “Two of the twelve media markets that cannot get local broadcasts are in Montana…can you commit to providing service to those markets?”

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), U.S. Senator Jon Tester demanded that AT&T/DirecTV work to provide local news broadcasts to unserved rural communities across the country—particularly in Helena and Glendive.

Currently, AT&T only provides local broadcasts to 198 out of 210 media markets nationwide; two of those not being served are in Montana. Tester grilled AT&T Senior Vice President of Content and Programming, Robert Thun, on the company’s inability to provide satellite services to larger communities in rural America when, at the same time, he is able to pick up service at his farm in Big Sandy.

“Quite frankly, Helena—by Montana standards—is far from remote. It’s our state capitol. I think that there’s a lack of desire [on the part of AT&T] to do anything about it,” said Tester in response to Thun’s comments that AT&T can’t serve remote areas.

Thirty years ago, Congress gave satellite companies discounted copyright licenses that allowed them to serve rural areas with distant signals from New York or Los Angeles to overcome technological roadblocks and better compete with cable. This week, the Commerce Committee debated the necessity of this provision in today’s video landscape.

Tester has led the charge to provide rural America with access to the same technology and resources that are given to urban areas. Earlier this year, he supported the Broadband DATA Act, which would help improve broadband mapping and fill in gaps in coverage in rural areas. He cosponsored the Save the Internet Act of 2019 in an attempt to reinstate Net Neutrality and ensure that people in rural states have access to technology that helps them remain competitive, and he is fighting to stop rural America from falling behind as 5G—the next generation of wireless technology—begins testing in American cities.