Q. I have DIRECTV and I used to get channels for Fox, NBC, ABC and all the networks from New York and Los Angeles, but now I just get Fox. Why is that? Didn’t you write an article saying AT&T got new agreements with everyone but ABC? — Jim, town withheld.
Jim, I will try to explain, but it’s highly confusing so bear with me.
For more than two decades, DIRECTV subscribers have been eligible under the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) to receive ‘distant’ network affiliate feeds for NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS and the CW 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 channels. The STELAR law provided an exception for people in remote areas where satcasters were unable to deliver the local network affiliates. (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 expired Monday. AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, estimates that tens of thousands of the satcaster’s subscribers are affected by the change, including RV owners, long-haul truckers, and residential customers in remote areas.
Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesman, told the TV Answer Man on Monday that his company has secured new agreements with all the networks except for ABC. Due to the change in the law, the company was forced to negotiate new deals with the networks to continue offering their programming to subscribers who previously received the out-of-market signals.
But that’s where it gets confusing. Greer says AT&T can not provide specifics regarding each network agreement, That means the company can’t, or won’t, say which subscribers would continue getting the out-of-market signals for the networks, except ABC.
All Greer would say is: “Our goal is to continue providing network content to as many homes as possible.”
Since Monday, DIRECTV subscribers have been posting messages on this site, and other Internet message boards, saying they are still getting the Fox feeds, or perhaps Fox and NBC. But only a few say they are still getting CBS, and some say they are not receiving any distant network channels after getting them for two decades or more.
“I lost all 4, got FOX and NBC (both feeds) back, then lost them again a bit ago. I tried to refresh and got an error message that said we know you are having problems with locals and are working on it. I’m located 120 miles north of Seattle, and get nothing but Vancouver BC with an antenna. My bill shows I’ve paid for all 4, no credits,” writes Fertree at DBSTalk.com.
“I live in northwest Pa. and have had the distant channels for 20 years. I lost them all and have not gotten any of them back as of yet. Am I not grandfathered in to get then back with everyone else after all this time?” Pat Uber writes in the TV Answer Man reader forum.
“Called and was told (by DIRECTV) I wouldn’t lose ‘local’ channels. I said I see I still have Fox east/west but not others,” writes Thom Koshinsky
“I have been paying for and getting the New York/LA channels since I first purchased the small satellite dish ($800) in 1995. This is before DirecTV was an entity. The content providers were two companies whose names I don’t remember. I live in rural northern California. I do also get the nearest local city channels from San Francisco. I watch a lot of local channels and the distant channels. It is crazy to limit what we can see if we are able to pay for it. Please AT&T and DirecTV keep these distant channels available,” pleads Martha Cleary.
“RVer here located with a service address in Texas…lost 394 and 395 (CW). Cumulatively I have CBS, NBC & FOX. I don’t have CW & ABC,” says ‘Bobinraymoreno at DBSTalk.
It’s a mystery why some subscribers are still receiving out-of-market networks while others are not. And perhaps an even bigger mystery as to why some are getting one or two, but not the others.
AT&T’s decision could be based on a number of factors such as their home’s distance from a local network affiliate, or each network’s stipulations under the new agreement with AT&T.
For example, CBS may have said RV owners could continue getting its out-of-market affiliate, but not residential customers. Or, some subscribers could get the signals if they are believed to be too far to receive their local network affiliate via an antenna.
It’s all just guesswork because AT&T isn’t elaborating on the cause, leaving subscribers scratching their heads and picking up the phone or computer to complain.
“So how do others get approved for DNS and why did I for so many years? Nothing has changed on my end,” writes FarNorth at DBSTalk.com.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at email@example.com. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann