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Montana Ag Network: Local television's place in rural America

Local news can be important for producers
Posted at 1:19 PM, Aug 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-05 16:17:23-04

It’s been a challenging year for many U.S. farmers and ranchers. From severe flooding in the Midwest to record amounts of precipitation in the Northern Plains, farmers had one challenge after another getting this year’s crops planted.

Critical windows for field work had producers and ag retailers like Chris Skorupa, owner of Beartooth Fertilizer near Red Lodge, closely monitoring the weather on their local television stations.

“Growing up on agriculture and being in the ag retail business for over seven years has made me realize the impact of weather of getting through a season as difficult and challenging as this one,” said Skorupa. “We faced mud, rain and snow conditions. Dealing with all of those and trying to get through a fertilizer season can be highly challenging. We depend highly on local weather stations, meteorologists to help get us through.”

Ag producers like Danny Schwend, who farms and ranchers near Bridger, agree that having access to local television programming like weather forecasts is important.

“We need to have it,” said Schwend. “I mean there’s no way. We might not hit the news at noon because we’re gone, but usually at 10 o’clock or first thing in the morning we’ll see what’s going on. We need to know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us. If not that day, during the week or the month to come, so we can figure out planting, you know, whatever we're doing, harvesting, make things work.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to their local television channels. That’s because 30 years ago, Congress enacted the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization or STELAR to give the “new” satellite companies a competitive advantage over big cable monopolies.

Skorupa said STELAR is set to expire at the end of the year. Without it, satellite companies will have to provide residents with the local news, weather and emergency information they want.

“STELAR has done its job in helping build companies like Direct TV and Dish Network into multibillion-dollar organizations,” said Skorupa.

Earlier this year, a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators, which included Montana’s Jon Tester, Wyoming’s Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and Colorado’s Michael Bennett sent a letter to DIRECTV asking why many of their customers in rural communities still receive limited or no access to their local television stations. STELAR is set to expire on December 31, 2019.