What are distant network services?

What do you do when you can’t get your local channels through DIRECTV? Once upon a time this was a big problem. In the early 2000s, DIRECTV did not offer local channels in any market, relying instead on customers to provide their own antennas. When they did start offering locals, they started with the big boys first — Los Angeles, New York, Chicago… the big population centers.

At that time, if you couldn’t get DIRECTV local channels and were too far away from the broadcast towers for reliable transmission, you could get a waiver that let you watch either the New York or Los Angeles feeds. These feeds are broadcast nationally even now.

If you were able to get local affiliates, you could work through the station’s engineering department to get a waiver from them to get local stations. This was rare but it did happen.

As more and more markets came online, people who had these “distant network services” (as the Los Angeles and New York feeds were called) kept these national channels until they changed programming packages. As soon as they added or removed even one premium channel, the party was over. Because distant networks were very popular with RV’ers, this was a source of some frustration.

You see, if you travel in an RV and bring your DIRECTV dish with you, that’s perfectly fine as long as there’s no one using DIRECTV service in the house. But, if you travel outside your local area you lose your local channels. Local channels are carried on spot beams that don’t extend very far beyond the areas they cover. Just because your RV is in Urbana, you don’t get Champaign locals automatically. Your receiver will try to pull in locals from wherever your service address is. (unless of course you actually live in Urbana, but you get the point.)

If you get distant network services, though, you can use them anywhere in the United States. Unfortunately for RV’ers, though, with DIRECTV having so much of the country covered with local channels it is almost impossible to get distant network services added to your account today. It involves getting letters from the general manager or chief engineer of every station giving you permission, and then the battle with DIRECTV begins. Why is this? Because these stations have the exclusive right to serve your home and that’s how they make their money. A station in Great Falls isn’t going to have the super-slick production values of a New York station and if that NYC channel tried to make inroads in Montana, that would put the local channel out of business — and with it would go the local news and services it provides.

Over the years many people have tried to “scam” the system and the folks at DIRECTV are very well aware of the loopholes, so it’s not really worth trying. It’s much better to use an antenna to get locals wherever you are, or rely on recorded programming when you’re out in the RV.