WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation Thursday offering $1.25 billion in federal loan guarantees to entice satellite, cable and wireless companies to deliver local TV signals to rural areas where millions can’t get them now.
The bill, approved unanimously, would help bring local news, weather and sports to Americans in rural areas where viewers may live outside the broadcast signal range of local TV stations signals.
Some people in those markets aren’t served by cable companies and the satellite services that sell to them are not yet offering the local channels.
“Just because they are small, doesn’t mean they should be left out,” said Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., one of the authors of the bill.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, another original sponsor, said the measure “simply is about equity.”
“Should satellite customers in the rural Maine communities of Lovell and Greenville and Fort Fairfield have the right to receive the local broadcasts of stations in Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle?” Collins said. “Should they have the ability to receive their local news, emergency weather forecasts, information about school closures, and the wrap-up of the local school sports via satellite? My answer is, yes, of course, they should.”
The loan guarantees would be capped at 80 percent. That means the federal government would promise to cover 80 percent of the loans if the borrower defaults.
The bill is technologically neutral — meaning that companies getting the loan guarantees could use cable, satellite or any other type of service to deliver the local signals. But satellites may offer the most cost-effective option, with the ability to cover the greatest rural area.
The House Commerce Committee has approved a similar bill and the Agriculture Committee in the House has cleared one that would guarantee 100 percent of the loans. The House must either merge those two or pick one before the legislation can advance. The White House has taken no position on the legislation.