Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to echo the comments of Senator Johnson and others who have taken a leadership role in seeing that rural satellite viewers are not left behind.
Well, Mr. Chairman, it seems like it's all been said but not everyone's said it. I guess that's one of the privileges of being a new Senator in the minority party. I get to go last. I'll just take a few moments. But as I look around the witness table, I see some new faces and I'm glad my colleagues appreciate how important this issue is to folks in rural Arkansas and rural America.
I wish we had all gotten together to get this done last fall, when I was circulating letters in support of the rural loan provision. Then we might have been able to avoid revisiting this issue today.
But, here we are and it's important that we take this opportunity to act. I hope that through these hearings, and those we're having in the Agriculture Committee, we can reach a consensus on how to ensure maximum coverage in rural areas.
This is an issue that affects the daily lives and access to information of thousands of my constituents. Since January of 1999, my office has received more letters and phone calls about satellite legislation than almost any other issue. More than 500,000 people in Arkansas were left without access to local TV programming when we adjourned in November without adopting the rural loan provision in the satellite bill.
A loan guarantee is important because current satellite capacity can provide local-into-local into only the 30 or so top markets. In my home state our largest media market, Little Rock, is only number 57 in the country. Our other local stations are in even smaller markets. The people who live in these communities deserve access to the same local news, weather and programming that folks in larger cities have.
There is widespread support in the Congress for this proposal. Last fall, when the chairman expressed concern over the rural loan provision, a bipartisan group of 24 Senators joined me in signing a letter urging the Majority Leader to file cloture on and proceed to the satellite bill. After we delivered the letter, five additional Senators called my office seeking to sign it. Meanwhile, Senator Burns was circulating another letter among Republicans, clearly demonstrating bipartisan support for the rural provision.
Local broadcasters provide a valuable service to rural communities. They provide people with local news and vital details about storm warnings and school closings. People in rural communities need access to this information. They deserve it. I urge Congress to do its part and see that they get it.
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