Updated, May 29 1 p.m. ET
AT&T has reached a multi-year deal with Fox to allow DIRECTV to offer the network’s programming to RV owners, truckers, and “other subscribers” for whom the satcaster does not provide local channels, according to an AT&T statement.

See June 1 update on this story.

The statement from AT&T is somewhat vague on whether the deal will allow DIRECTV to provide Fox to tens of thousands of residential subscribers who are now receiving ‘distant’ network affiliate signals, but could lose them on Monday due to a change in federal law.

The TV Answer Man today asked AT&T for a clarification regarding whether the agreement affects just RV and truckers, or everyone who has been getting non-local network programming.

Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesman, today (May 29) issued this statement to The TV Answer Man:

“We can’t disclose specifics of the agreement, but it does address RV owners, long-haul truckers and other subscribers who received distant signals. Our goal is to continue providing network content to as many homes as possible.”

Asked if residential customers would continue getting distant signals, Greer said: “The statement notes other subscribers who received distant signals.”

For roughly 25 years, DIRECTV subscribers have been eligible under the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act to receive the signals of network affiliates outside their markets if DIRECTV does not provide their local channels. (The ‘distant’ signals have come from network affiliates such as those in Los Angeles and New York.)

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 people in remote areas where satcasters were unable to deliver the local signals. (Dish also used to provide distant locals, but no longer has to because it offers the market’s locals in all areas.)

However, Congress last year did not renew the law, and it’s scheduled to expire on Monday, June 1, which is why DIRECTV now must make a deal with each network to continue distributing its programming.

Unless AT&T can strike agreements with CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC, the company says tens of thousands of DIRECTV customers in rural markets (and the RV owners and truckers) will lose access to network programming such as news updates about the Coronavirus pandemic.

“It is critical for our customers to be able to access network TV programming, especially during this global pandemic,” said Tim McKone, AT&T’s executive vice president of federal relations. “With this agreement, essential workers, like those on oil rigs and long-haul truckers, can stay connected with news and information. We appreciate FOX for putting the interests of consumers first and we hope the other networks follow suit.”

AT&T has urged Congress to pass a temporary extension of the law until 2021, noting that some customers could lose access to important news during the Coronavirus outbreak. But with the June 1 deadline looming, it appears that will not happen.

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

Several congressmen have pushed AT&T to resolve the dilemma by distributing each market’s local affiliates. But the company prefers to offer the distant network affiliates.

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— Phillip Swann