Hearing on Loan Guarantees and Rural Television Service

Prepared Testimony of the Honorable Tim Hutchinson (R-AR)
United States Senator

11:00 a.m., Wednesday, February 9, 2000 - Dirksen 628

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of my constituents who will benefit from satellite companies being allowed to provide local programming, and a federal loan guarantee program that will assist the industry in reaching that goal.

Arkansas is a rural state. The rugged terrain of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains means that many Arkansans are so far removed from over-the-air signal and cable providers, they must rely on satellite service as their sole source of television programming.

I have heard from hundreds of Arkansans who are concerned about their network programming and want local television signals through their satellite providers.

This is why I am here today. I want to join with my colleagues from rural states in support of a federal loan guarantee program whose goal is providing unserved Americans with local television programming.

I supported the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA) because it ensured that our constituents in unserved areas would keep their network satellite programming and will be able to enjoy local programming, someday. The challenges created by requiring satellite companies to provide local-into-local service is another reason why I am here today.

In order to reach our goal, I believe that satellite technology is an efficient way to deliver that local programming; however, that is not to say that cable companies and cooperatives may not be the best medium in certain areas.

We know that the technology and infrastructure needed to provide rural, unserved Americans with local television signals is both underdeveloped and expensive. A loan guarantee program will assist companies in complying with must-carry rules and expedite the proliferation of technology needed to provide local programming to rural customers in states like Arkansas.

Rural communities in my state are very close-knit, and the local news and weather are important to the families living there. Some people may think we are going to a lot of trouble to make sure our rural, unserved constituents have access to local programming. While it is nice that all Arkansans would be able to watch our beloved Razorbacks, there are more important reasons why we must continue our efforts.

One of the benefits of providing local channels is the ability to inform Arkansans of dangerous weather. Tornadoes damage property and take lives every year in my state. The ability to respond quickly to sudden changes in the weather may mean the difference between life and death.

Another reason I am here testifying today is because I want my constituents to have access to the best technology available, no matter where they choose to live. It is clear that many rural communities in my home state are not served because providing them with reliable programming is not "cost effective."

Can we put a price tag on the opportunities communities are given when they have technology available to them? Personally, I think we have the resources to allow Americans living in rural areas to benefit from the technology revolution. Americans in rural areas should not be left out.

There is no doubt that reaching the goal of providing rural customers with local programming is going to take cooperation. It is my hope that the technologies best suited to provide the local signals to our constituents will be given the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your commitment to writing a loan guarantee program that maximizes the probability that the loans will be paid back and your determination to move legislation prior to the March 30th deadline.

I commend the work you and the other members of the Senate Banking Committee are doing to ensure that my rural, unserved constituents have access to local programming. Again, thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of thousands of Arkansans who will benefit from the work being done here.

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