Q. I just got a message from DIRECTV saying I will no longer get out-of-market network channels on June 1. What the Hell?! Is this AT&T’s doing again? What’s going on with this? — Ivan, Leonardtown, Maryland. 

DIRECTV, which is owned by AT&T, is now notifying some customers that they could lose their network TV channels (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) on June 1. But it’s not AT&T’s fault, Ivan. Let me explain.

See update: DIRECTV Keeps Fox In Local Channel Fight

For more than two decades, some DIRECTV and Dish subscribers have been eligible under the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act to receive the signals of network affiliates outside their markets. Normally, pay TV viewers are prohibited from receiving ‘distant network signals (DNS)’ because local broadcasters want them to watch their signals. But the law provided an exception for residents in remote areas where the satcasters were unable to deliver the local signals.

However, Congress last year did not renew the law, and it’s scheduled to expire on June 1, which is why DIRECTV is notifying subscribers that they could lose the distant networks on that day.

“Regretfully, we must inform you of a new law that affects your programming,” the DIRECTV customer message states. “Until recently, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act authorized DIRECTV to provide you access to your out-of-market broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, CW, and/or FOX. Unfortunately, Congress has decided to not renew key provisions of this law. As a result, on June 1, 2020, we no longer will be able to provide you access to these out-of-market channels. These are not available anywhere else. However, this change does not affect access to your existing local network stations.”

It’s unclear how many DIRECTV customers will lose the channels. (AT&T says it’s in the ‘tens of thousands.’) But AT&T is concerned enough to urge Congress to pass a temporary extension, noting that some customers could lose access to important news updates during the Coronavirus outbreak.

“These unique subscribers presently have no other way to obtain this network programming except through distant signals,” the company said in a letter to Congress which was obtained by Multichannel News. ““Unfortunately, this means disrupting these customers’ service and access to important news and entertainment during this time of emergency.”

The chances of an extension are uncertain at best.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which has a powerful lobby in Washington, D.C., opposes any new deadline, charging that AT&T could deliver the local network signals to the rural residents if it were willing to invest.

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— Phillip Swann