RFD-TV Needs Your Help to Protect Rural Programming!

RFD-TV Needs Your Help to Protect Rural Programming!

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Contact your congressional representative and both of your state's senators today, with the following message:

  1. Please support the Rural Communications Act of 2018.

  2. Please support attaching the Rural Communications Act of 2018 into the pending Farm Bill.

  3. It is important that content devoted to serving rural America, including farmers and ranchers, be protected in this age of major mega media consolidation.

  4. Congress has done so in the past to insure that rural America be treated fairly and receive the same services as urban America. Its time to do it again.

The Rural Communications Act 2018 is now being considered by both Houses of Congress. This act will mandate that 1% every cable company's channel capacity be reserved for rural programming, to be carried in their most basic, lowest-priced tier. Please act now, to help ensure that we will always have rural content available on television in our homes.

Not sure who your congressional representatives are or how to contact them? Use the following resources to easily find out:
U.S House of Representatives
U.S. Senate


Rural Communications Act – 2018 – Why?

Eighteen years ago, on December 15, 2000, RFD-TV was launched on DISH Network as a public interest channel that qualified under the Cable Communications Act of 1992 whereby DBS operators were required to reserve 4%-7% of their bandwidth for qualified public interest channels. Without the foresight of the FCC and the U.S. Congress back then, our independent television network devoted to serving the needs and interests of rural America never would have been given a chance by any satellite or cable operator.

I can personally attest to that fact. For 8 years, from 1992 to 2000, I knocked on every door trying to convince someone, anyone, in the cable industry to give a rural channel a chance. Everyone turned us down, if we even got a meeting. Lots of reasons given by people who were probably well-intentioned but just had an “urban” point of view – farmers only watch television at 4am, there are not enough advertisers to support such a network, bandwidth is tight, there is not enough programming to support such a channel, and so on. This was my first experience with urban program directors who just did not have any connection, or put any value, on rural America. Their attention focused on channels being offered by large urban-based media companies – CNN, HBO, ESPN, Fox News, USA, and all the others.

Since then, I have seen that attitude only grow and become even more confusing and frustrating. Now, with the clear consolidation of media into the hands of a few urban-based conglomerates, that trend is growing out-of-control. Over the past ten years, I’ve witnessed, brick by brick, a wall being built between urban and rural America when it comes to television programming. I have done everything possible to fight this trend, and work constructively, to change this course. I’ve testified before the House Judiciary Sub-Committee in 2014, met with every FCC Commissioner, several times, over the past five years, toured the Hill meeting with Senators and Congressmen about this subject, and have had several frank meetings with the Department of Justice. All were very receptive and understood the issue but had the same response – “What do you want us to do? There is no law on the books to enforce mandating the carriage of rural programming.”

Can’t rural America be represented by at least one channel? That’s our position. Just 1% of the bandwidth reserved for qualified rural programmers. That is all that we are asking for.

At the same time, I continued to meet with these urban program directors armed with extensive research showing the popularity of rural programming and the clear desire from that cable company’s own subscribers to be able to watch such a channel, hoping to change their attitudes. I stayed as constructive and positive as possible. Nothing worked.

In 2016, the FCC opened a Notice of Inquiry into the plight of independent programmers and invited the public to comment over a 30-day period. Over 202,000 individual, written public comments were filed in support of protecting rural programming and RFD-TV. There were not 500 comments written in support of all other cable channels combined. That’s right – less than 500 – total, for all the other channels. Rural America spoke, yet the FCC’s hands were tied with no legislation on the books. The Notice of Inquiry expired without anything being done.

Now, with this latest round of mega-mergers (see below), this situation is quickly going from bad to worse. It is out of control. Comcast just dropped RFDTV in all remaining states. Verizon FiOS TV refuses to return RFD-TV to their program lineup. Frontier Communications and WOW (Wide Open West) refuse to even meet, and they serve predominately “rural” markets. All give the same basic excuse that the mega media conglomerates are forcing new channels on their systems and they need to “drop” something. Independent, rural programming is low-hanging fruit.

In the 2012 Comcast/MSNBC merger, it was required that Comcast add ten (10) new independent channels over the next five years of Hispanic or African-American content. Comcast did so, but at the expense of other independent channels, including our own. I do not believe that this was the intent of that condition to be enforced by the FCC – adding new independent channels at the expense of existing independent channels serving minorities of their own.

Can’t rural America be represented by at least one channel? That’s our position. Just 1% of the bandwidth reserved for qualified rural programmers. That is all that we are asking for.

Folks, this is absolutely critical and must be done at this time. There is no other option short of an act of Congress. A law to insure that the needs and interests of rural America be treated fairly, and equally, in this fast-changing communication revolution must be enacted and approved. The writing is on the wall. Content to address the special needs for rural news, market information, and weather while providing a place for airing programming from all the agricultural associations and rural organizations must be protected (American Farm Bureau, FFA, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, 4-H, Corn, Wheat, & Soybean Growers, Cotton Council, Fruit & Vegetable Growers, etc). Programming featuring the special needs for rural healthcare, rural education, and rural development must be supported – otherwise, who is going to do it, and do it well – some urban news organization?? We know they will not. We know that they can not.

There is no other option short of an act of Congress. A law to insure that the needs and interests of rural America be treated fairly, and equally, in this fast-changing communication revolution must be enacted and approved.

Congress has taken this necessary step to protect rural America several times in the past. Our namesake – RFD or Rural Free Delivery Act – established and insured that mail should be delivered to and from rural America. There are many such examples. Congress saw the need on each of these occasions where legislation was enacted over the objections of urban America. The interesting thing in each case is that each act actually benefitted urban citizens as much as their rural neighbors.

I firmly believe that the same will be true with the Rural Communications Act of 2018. There cannot be a wall built between urban and rural America. Communication will be key to all of us coming together, to work together, to take on the challenges facing our common future. Urban citizens must have an understanding of the issues facing rural residents, including the farmers and ranchers that grow their food and fiber. Rural America understands, and is united, on the fact that we know that we must do a better job of communicating with urban consumers and voters. This cannot be shut down by a few urban based program directors serving now as the ultimate gate keepers. Urban cable operators, as much as anyone, must carry rural programming.

What good will there be in having rural broadband, if there is no rural content being produced? The news and information pipeline must flow in both directions, and provide a wide diversity of content from both an urban and a rural perspective. After all, this still is the United States of America.

And that, my friends, is why we all need the Rural Communications Act of 2018.

— Patrick Gottsch


May, 2012 - Comcast Acquires MSNBC

August, 2013 - Comcast Cable drops RFD-TV in Colorado & New Mexico despite huge customer outcry.

February, 2014 - Comcast attempts to acquire Time Warner & Brighthouse cable

May, 2014 - House Judiciary Sub Committee on Comcast/Time Warner merger takes place where David Cohen, VP Comcast, states “Comcast is primarily an urban clustered cable company” when queried by Chairman Backus on why the drop of rural content in Colorado & New Mexico. In the follow up filing to explain how Comcast is providing rural content, old tv series including “Gunsmoke,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Dukes of Hazzard” were listed as examples of rural content carried by other cable channels on Comcast cable systems to serve the rural market.

April, 2015 – Comcast drops its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable.

July, 2015 – AT&T acquires DIRECTV making it the largest pay tv provider in the world.

February, 2016 – Verizon FiOS TV drops all rural programming, including RFD-TV, the Weather Channel, and the Sportsman’s channel on all cable systems serving 5.5m homes.

March, 2016 – the FCC opens a Notice Of Inquiry for independent cable channels. During a 30-day public comment period, over 202,000 individual comments were filed asking the FCC to insure that rural programming be protected in light of all of the consolidation taking place in the cable industry.

April, 2016 – Frontier Communications acquires Verizon FiOS TV systems in California, Texas, & Florida and refuses to reinstate RFD-TV programming despite many customer requests.

May, 2016 – Charter acquires Time Warner Cable and Brighthouse Cable making it the 2nd largest cable operator controlling 25 million homes in 41 states.

March, 2018 – Conditions attached to the Comcast/MSNBC merger expire, which included the requirement for Comcast to add ten (10) new independent channels. Comcast subsequently drops RFD-TV in all remaining states including Kentucky/Tennessee in April, Florida, Virginia, and Vermont in May, and finally Utah and other states in June.

June, 2018 – AT&T Acquires Time Warner, Inc. WATCH TV is launched without any rural programming channel included, a first for DIRECTV.


Rural Communications Act – 2018 

Policy Rationale –

Communication between urban and rural America is vital to the prosperity and security of the country.

The development and expansion of broadband internet in rural America is key to the furtherance of communication between urban and rural America and will help to overcome the developing cultural divide.

Multichannel video programming distributors, however, are not currently meeting the needs and interests of rural America, and thus slowing the adoption of broadband internet in rural America.

The special need for news, weather, and commodity market information which is unique to rural America is being ignored by urban news conglomerates.

It is in the public interest for multichannel video programming distributors to meet the needs and interests of rural America.

Promoting the availability of video programming that meets the needs and interests of rural America will increase adoption of broadband internet in rural America.

Proposed Language –

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “Rural Communications Act of 2018”.

SEC. 2. OBLIGATION TO CARRY RURAL CONTENT.

(a) Not later than January 1, 2019, each multichannel video programming distributor with 5,000 or more subscribers shall reserve 1% of its total bandwidth to distribute to all of its subscribers video programming that predominantly serves the needs and interests of rural America.

SEC. 3. DEFINITION.

(a) The phrase “video programming that predominantly serves the needs and interests of rural America” means at least a majority of the programming per week is dedicated to video programming comprising rural news, information on commodity markets, equine, information regarding rural healthcare, rural development and rural education needs, Western sports, and other video content relating to the needs and interests of the farm and ranch lifestyle.

SEC. 4. ENFORCEMERNT AUTHORITY.

(a) The Federal Communications Commission shall implement and enforce the requirements of this Act.

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