Upholding the Value of Broadcast Localism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Imagine living in New York City and discovering that your pay-TV provider does not carry the local PBS affiliate and instead provides you with a Philadelphia based station. While this unusual arrangement would preserve access to some of your favorite nationally-televised PBS shows like Antiques Roadshow and NewsHour, unless you have an over-the-air antenna, it would mean missing out on the high-quality local programming that broadcasters are required to provide their communities of license.

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett from the U.S. Virgin Islands brought to my attention a similar scenario confronting her constituents. The local PBS affiliate, WTJX-TV which has been broadcasting for more than 40 years is not available to satellite customers, including a growing number of residents who have chosen DISH as their provider. In its place, DISH carries the PBS national feed along with several Puerto Rico based stations. Geographically, Puerto Rico is just over 100 miles from the Virgin Islands, but make no mistake they are very different communities, not to mention that they have a different dominate language.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to the Virgin Islands and met with Tanya-Marie Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System, which includes WTJX-TV Channel 12 and WTJX-FM 93.1. Take a look at their lineup and you will find that they produce high-quality local programming, including Face to Face with Addie Ottley, Ritmo Del Doce along with Meet the Candidates programs during the election season.

So why is WTJX-TV not being carried by some pay-TV providers? Primarily because the Virgin Islands is not in a Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA). This means, in sum, that WTJX cannot elect must-carry or retransmission consent. And while I cannot compel carriage of WTJX as an FCC Commissioner, I do believe it is the right thing to do. We owe it to the people of the Virgin Islands to ensure they have access to local public broadcasting, just as those living in the continental United States, Hawaii, and parts of Alaska have come to expect and I call on the powers that be to make it happen, now.


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