Opening Statements of Committee Members

Opening Statement of Senator John Edwards (D-NC)

Hearing on Satelite Loan Guarantees and Rural Television Service
10:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 1, 2000

I would like to thank Chairman Gramm and Ranking Member Sarbanes for holding these hearings. I believe we are here today to discuss an issue of great importance to many Americans -- access to local television programming. I look forward to hearing from the various witnesses.

For many months now, I have been hearing from concerned North Carolinians who want to know why they are not able to see their local affiliates via their home satellites. Many of these constituents believed that when we passed the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, they would be able to watch their local channels. And they will - but it looks like it won't happen any time soon.

This problem is pretty serious in North Carolina. Moreover, while roughly 3 percent of homes in the United States do not have access to cable, in North Carolina, that figure is much higher at 9.5 percent. And people believe both of those statistics should be significantly higher. Some of these households may have satellite dishes, so maybe they get movies and other channels. But these people are not getting local programming. Similarly, many North Carolinians who own satellites and who live within Grade B contours are not receiving local programming. Even though many of these people theoretically can get local programming now that the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act is law, the reality is that a great many of these people will not see local programming for a very long time -- if ever.

I am committed to making sure that rural residents have access to local programming. Sooner rather than later. So I strongly believe that the loan guarantee program that we will hear about today is a critical step that we need to take.

Let me tell you why I think this is important. It's very simple. People need to know what is going on around them. In North Carolina, we have recently experienced some of the most catastrophic natural disasters in the state's recorded history, and people need to be able to get local information about local weather and local emergencies. People need to know what their local legislators are doing for them. Rural schools need to have access to educational programs that help keep their students on par with students in urban areas. Put simply, people need to know what is going on their community.

We are going to hear today from the satellite and cable industries about how they think we could and should structure a loan guarantee program to reach the unserved and underserved households in America. I think we need to listen very carefully to what each side has to say, because we want to make sure that we proceed carefully. I want to make sure that my constituents have access to their local programs and affiliates, and I want to make sure that we do it in a way that does not expose taxpaying Americans to costly risks.

I look forward to hearing from the various witnesses today. In particular, I hope to hear about the timeframe for providing local programming to markets such as Charlotte, NC (which is the nation's 28th largest market), and to other smaller markets. I also hope to hear what is being done to address the lack of access in the more rural areas. With almost 33 percent of households in North Carolina located in rural areas, I am extremely concerned that these people may be faced with a significant wait before they are able to receive local programming.

I thank the witnesses for being here and look forward to hearing their comments.