DirecTV viewers lose access to UNC-TV


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A dis­agree­ment be­tween satel­lite gi­ant DirecTV and public broadcaster UNC-TV over the qual­ity of the latter’s sig­nal has blacked out UNC-TV pro­gram­ming for DirecTV’s cus­tomers in much of north­east­ern North Carolina.

DirecTV cus­tomers in the re­gion lost their chan­nel link with UNC-TV Public Me­dia North Carolina, which trans­mits its programming through sta­tion WUND-TV of Eden­ton/​Columbia, as of mid­night July 1.

That means DirecTV cus­tomers in Pasquotank, Cam­den, Cur­rituck and five other coun­ties in the re­gion cur­rently have no ac­cess to pub­lic tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming gen­er­ated by UNC-TV. Their only ac­cess to pub­lic tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming through their TV is through WHRO, which is based in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia.

Ann Elsas, a spokeswoman for AT&T for North Carolina, acknowledged in an email last week that WUND is temporarily unavailable to DirecTV customers in the Norfolk, Virginia, area market. AT&T bought DirecTV four years ago.

According to Elsas, UNC-TV failed to provide DirecTV a signal that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum quality standards in time to re-launch WUND before the start of July. As a result, DirecTV has stopped retransmitting UNC-TV’s signal for now. 

“Assuming UNC meets its FCC obligations regarding this minimum quality standard, we would then have reasonable time from the FCC to re-launch WUND and intend to do so,” Elsas said.

Until then, Elsas said, DirecTV customers in northeastern North Carolina can continue to watch public television programming on WHRO.

Attempts to obtain comment from a UNC-TV spokesman for this story were unsuccessful. However, someone answering the phone at UNC-TV’s offices referred a reporter to a statement on the station’s website about DirecTV’s decision to stop transmitting the WUND signal in the Norfolk market.

“This is DirecTV’s decision — not UNC-TV’s,” the statement reads. “After nearly 17 years, DirecTV elected not to renew its existing carriage agreement with UNC-TV.”

The decision resulted in DirecTV customers in the Norfolk, Virginia market losing UNC-TV and the Explorer Channel, and customers in the Triad and Wilmington areas of North Carolina and Florence and Myrtle Beach markets losing the Explorer Channel, UNC-TV’s statement reads.

UNC-TV Public Media notes that because it’s a non-commercial broadcaster, it’s prohibited from receiving compensation from DirecTV for retransmitting its channels. As a result, DirecTV’s decision isn’t about money, the public broadcaster said. 

“DirecTV will carry only the absolute minimum channels that it is legally required to offer,” UNC-TV’s statement reads, noting the satellite provider’s stance on carrying UNC-TV channels is now “similar” to that of its rival, Dish Network.

UNC-TV Public Media said it apologizes to viewers and is working with DirecTV to “restore carriage of WUND-TV as quickly as possible” in the Norfolk market. It added, however, that the “precise timetable” for that happening is “currently unknown.” 

In the meantime, UNC-TV noted viewers can view its Explorer Channel by purchasing an antenna, adding that some “members of our organization have used the ClearStream 2MAX satisfactorily.” UNC-TV also noted viewers can also watch its programs on the internet at https://video.unctv.org/.

Some UNC-TV viewers in the region have indicated they’re not happy with any of the options DirecTV and UNC-TV have suggested for viewing public television on North Carolina topics.

In a letter to the editor of The Daily Advance, David J. Rigby called DirecTV’s decision to stop re-transmitting UNC-TV’s signal in northeastern North Carolina through WUND “a blatant disservice to North Carolina residents.”

Rigby said watching WHRO is not a good option because northeastern North Carolina residents have scant interest in news, politics and cultural goings-on in Virginia.

“All North Carolina residents, regardless of their location in the state, deserve access to our state’s public television programming,” he said.

Rigby called on DirecTV customers in the region to file a complaint with the FCC and to contact their elected representatives in the federal government.

“Living on the Inner Banks of North Carolina should not mean that we are denied our state’s public television programming and forced to watch only Virginia-based public television. We deserve better,” he wrote.

Emailed a copy of Rigby’s letter, AT&T spokeswoman Elsas said the company didn’t have anything further to add beyond the company’s prepared statement.

William Moore, field district director for U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said he had been contacted by a couple of constituents, including Rigby, about DirecTV’s decision to stop re-transmission of WUND.

Moore said he had reached out to the FCC about the issue but was still awaiting the agency’s response.

“We asked them to please look into the remarks made by our constituent,” he said.

An FCC spokeswoman late last week referred a reporter’s questions to DirecTV.

To view UNC-TV’s statement about DirectTV’s decision to drop its retransmission of WUND, visit https://www.unctv.org/about/pressroom/directv-ceases-carriage/.