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Fighting for a choice

| July 13, 2007 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

If you're a member of Congress, it's hard to ignore your constituents when they make it absolutely clear they want something done. It's especially difficult when it's obvious that right is on their side and they're not inclined to go away. Faced with 1,500 signatures on a petition, along with resolutions from the Lincoln County Commission and all three city councils, Montana's members of Congress are paying attention to our fight for the right to watch Montana stations on satellite TV.

All three — Sen. Max Baucus, Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg — appear to be serious about the issue. A staff member says it's now "highest priority" in Tester's office; Baucus has had staffers working on the problem for months, and Rehberg has assigned a telecom specialist to the issue.

They all tell me they're determined to find an answer, but it may not be easy and it's not likely to be quick.

All we've asked for is the right to choose either Montana stations or Spokane stations. We want that because most of us would like to see news, weather and sports from Montana instead of from Washington, two states and one time zone away.

The fact is, the Spokane stations, which are short on Montana content, can be expected to fight to keep us on their hook. Their motivation is greed, not concern for Lincoln County.

KXLY's weather coverage the day the storm hit Troy is a case in point. A Lincoln County viewer tells me the station's on-the-air meteorologist set aside a weather update because it was just "western Montana" and moved on to Washington and Idaho. The station didn't put that video on its Web site, but what was shown made it clear who KXLY serves. Montana simply wasn't in the picture. Lincoln County had to be happy with the knowledge that the storm was moving northwest. Hey, guess who's up here? Western Montana's "local" Spokane viewers, that's who.

The congressional offices tell us they're looking at several possibilities: 1. A change in the county's assignment to a "Designated Market Area." If we were moved to the Missoula-Kalispell DMA, we would no longer be allowed to see Spokane stations. I have explained to all three offices that a few of us prefer Spokane, and our petition asks for a choice, not a switch.

2. A relaxation of Federal Communication Commission rules. Maybe, but I don't see how the law would allow that.

3. A change in the law. A bill, H.R. 2821, has been introduced in the House. Rehberg's office supports the bill, but the broadcasters' lobbyists, naturally, are fighting it.

4. The existing satellite TV law is up for reauthorization in 2009. If nothing is done before then, the effort will be to make changes in that bill. I don't want to wait until 2009. Montana will continue to make news, whether Spokane recognizes it or not. Storms that cross Idaho will probably not stop at the border.

And the Grizzlies will play football this fall, and it won't be on a Spokane station.

If you agree, keep the pressure on.

Baucus: (800) 332-6106; Tester: (866) 554-4403; Rehberg: (888) 232-2626. They all have Web sites, of course. Type their names into Google and you're on your way.

Jay Goley

Libby