Atlanta-based television stations could soon be on the screens of satellite customers in Hart, Franklin and Stephens counties.
The Federal Communications Commission denied an appeal from Carolina-based television stations on May 20 to keep the “orphan counties” from entering the Atlanta stations’ market after the FCC’s Media Bureau previously ruled in 2018 to allow Hart, Franklin and Stephens counties to join the Atlanta market.
It is now up to the Atlanta television stations and satellite providers DISH and DirecTV on whether or not to negotiate deals that would give local viewers access to Atlanta stations WSB-TV, WGCL, WXIA and WAGA.
A spokesperson for Dish confirmed to The Sun this week that the company would not be limited to one market, meaning they would be able to offer both Atlanta stations and Carolina stations if negotiations are completed.
AT&T, DirecTV’s parent company, is already in preliminary discussions with Atlanta station owners regarding potentially offering their signals, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed to The Sun.
Hart, Franklin, Elbert and Stephens counties are considered “orphan counties” because they are in a television market from a different state.
Hart County Administrator Terrell Partain said getting the market modification has been in the works for a couple of years now and that Franklin County manager Beth Thomas spearheaded the effort.
“What this whole process was for was to get the government out of it,” Partain said.
The free market will guide negotiations now, Partain said. He also said this only applies to satellite customers, not cable customers who already have access to in-state programming.
Partain, who is also the county emergency management director, said his concern from that position is that residents should understand the local weather alerts still come out of Greenville because Hart County is under Greenville-Spartanburg’s jurisdiction for the National Weather Service.
“Everybody thinks well ‘we’ll get better weather (with Atlanta stations).’ That’s not the case,” Partain said. “...Our weather (information) is still going to come from Greenville and that’s what (residents) need to pay attention to.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has previously advocated for the orphan counties to be given access to Georgia television stations and said last week that he will work with satellite companies and broadcasters to ensure access to Georgia television for satellite customers.
“For decades, residents of Franklin, Hart, Stephens and Elbert counties have been deprived of critical news, weather, and sports television coverage,” Collins said in a statement. “But thanks to today’s ruling, orphan county residents in northeast Georgia will finally have access to the Georgia broadcasting they deserve.”
The FCC’s Media Bureau ruled in 2018 that Hart County, as well as Stephens, Franklin and Elbert, could have access to the Atlanta market, but Carolina stations, including WYFF, WHNS, WSPA-TV and WLOS, filed an appeal for those rulings in Franklin, Hart and Stephens counties. The ruling for Elbert County was not appealed.
After more than a year-and-a-half, the FCC issued a 15-page order denying the appeal.
The FCC said in its ruling that the order granting modification “best serves Congress’ purpose of providing in-state programming to orphan counties.”
“Accordingly, after examining all the relevant evidence and considering the statutory factors in their proper context, we find that the requisite nexus exists between the Atlanta Stations and the Counties and that the interests of localism are advanced by grant of the requested market modifications,” the FCC’s order says.