FCC Decision Will Bring Denver TV Stations To Southwest Colorado

<p>(Grace Hood/CPR News)</p>
<p>An aerial view of Durango, Colorado. </p>
Photo: Durango, Colorado (Staff)
An aerial view of Durango, Colorado.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved a plan to allow Denver TV stations to broadcast to Durango and the surrounding area.

Historically, La Plata County in southwestern Colorado has only received New Mexico-based TV stations. The county filed a petition with the FCC in 2016 to receive in-state news, sports, weather, politics -- and emergency alerts. It was the first local government to do so under a new policy.

The FCC’s decision will modify the local satellite TV markets of the four Denver network stations, KDUR-TV, KCNK-TV, KMGH-TV and KUSA-TV, so that they will include La Plata.

Terri Lucero has lived in the county for 20 years. She said it’s been frustrating only getting news from Albuquerque — more than 200 miles away — so Thursday’s decision was a welcome surprise.

"I cannot tell you how excited I am. And even if it takes a year, just knowing there’s an end to this madness is beautiful,” Lucero said.

It shouldn’t be nearly that long. According to the FCC’s order, the Denver stations have 30 days to accept the decision and 90 days to start broadcasting in the county.

But La Plata Board of Commissioners public affairs officer Megan Graham said the timeline is hard to pin down.

“What happens now is that the broadcasters and the satellite companies have to start their negotiations. And we don’t have any role in that at all. And I don’t know how quickly or slowly that will move,” Graham said.

La Plata county has been in the Albuquerque market because of the way Nielsen draws the broadcast map. And it was the Albuquerque stations that held up the FCC’s decision -- they don’t want to lose part of their audience. Broadcasters there objected to the county’s petition and filed an application for review.

In February, the La Plata Commissioners sent a letter to the FCC, asking for prompt action to deny the Albuquerque stations’ application and approve the market modification.

“As an 'orphan' county, our citizens suffer from not getting Colorado new coverage and related programming,” said the letter, signed by the three commissioners: Julie Westendorff, Clyde Church and Gwen Lachhelt.

Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet and Rep. Scott Tipton praised the move in a joint press release.

“Today’s news is a positive step forward,” Gardner said in the release. “For too long, many Coloradans living in the Four Corners region have not been able to get Colorado news, weather, sports, and critical emergency information and it’s about time we fix this once and for all.”

“Whether it’s a severe weather alert or catching a Broncos game, it’s common sense that people living in Colorado should have access to content from their own state,” Bennet added in the release.

Neighboring Montezuma County is also an “orphan” county -- it gets Albuquerque broadcasts -- and it was not part of the FCC’s decision.

“I know that many of us in Montezuma County would like to get Denver stations. We are in Colorado, and we are sick of Albuquerque news and politics, which have nothing to do with our area,” said Debbie McHenry, of Cortez, in an email.