FCC commissioner calls for Dish to carry Virgin Islands PBS station

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An FCC commissioner is recommending that satellite viewers in the Virgin Islands receive their local PBS member station instead of content from stations in Puerto Rico.

WTJX, based in St. Thomas, has been broadcasting for 40 years but is not available to “a growing number of residents” who use Dish as their provider, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement Monday. Dish instead offers the PBS national feed and content from several public television stations in Puerto Rico.

“Geographically, Puerto Rico is just over 100 miles from the Virgin Islands,” Clyburn said. “But make no mistake they are very different communities, not to mention that they have a different dominant language.”

Clyburn compared the situation to “living in New York City and discovering that your pay-TV provider does not carry the local PBS affiliate and instead provides you with a Philadelphia-based station.”

Clyburn recently met with Tanya-Marie Singh, c.e.o. of the Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System, during a visit to assess telecommunications technology in the islands. Singh said the situation is especially problematic during election cycles. “We hear a lot from viewers then,” she said in an interview. “We have a robust slate of programming during elections. We partner with the League of Women Voters to interview each candidate for local office.” The station also presents debates and election-night coverage.

Must-carry regulations do not apply because the Virgin Islands is not a Nielsen Designated Market Area, Clyburn said. She cannot compel carriage in her position, Clyburn added, but said, “I do believe it is the right thing to do … and I call on the powers that be to make it happen, now.”

“America’s Public Television Stations appreciate Commissioner Clyburn’s work to ensure that the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands — including satellite subscribers — have access to WTJX’s local public television programming,” said Lonna Thompson, APTS e.v.p., c.o.o. and general counsel in a statement to Current. “We look forward to working with all interested parties to remedy this situation.”