For about 870,000 American households, most of them rural, the local television news is anything but. Because they can't pick up broadcast signals from a TV station, they must rely on the network affiliate stations from their satellite TV providers, and sometimes those news stations are hundreds of miles away and have no interest in them, Grant Schulte reports for The Associated Press.

Dianne Johnson lives in western Nebraska, where the news stories on her satellite TV all come from Denver, over 200 miles away. That frustrates Johnson, who wants to know more about local and state politics, sports, and weather. "Johnson’s plight is part of a congressional dispute pitting local broadcasters against satellite television providers, who are frequently the only option for viewers in America’s most remote corners," Schulte reports.

There are two causes, AP notes: "The first is a federal law that lets satellite providers import distant broadcast signals to those 'neglected markets' at a steep discount, even though the local news subscribers see may not be relevant. The law was initially passed in 1988 to help small, fledgling satellite TV providers compete with cable companies that were viewed as monopolies at the time. It’s set to expire at the year’s end, but satellite providers are lobbying Congress to extend it for another five years."

If the law expires, satellite providers would no longer send distant news to rural viewers but would probably have to pay more to add local broadcast stations to their offerings. Local broadcasters could extend the reach of their signals to reach more rural viewers, but that would require federal approval, and the Federal Communications Commission has essentially not allowed broadcast stations to do so for nearly a decade, Schulte reports.

"The second challenge for rural viewers is a federal law that sets the boundaries for the nation’s media markets," Schulte reports. Media markets are based on a map drawn by Nielsen Media Research. Local leaders who feel their county is in the wrong media market can appeal to the FCC, but it's a complicated and time-consuming process. WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky., has been fighting its battle for more than a decade.