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EchoStar Lobbying for Satellite DTV

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to speed up the rollout of broadcast digital TV, Communications is lobbying Congress to clear the way for satellite television companies to offer the DTV signals of major broadcast networks-at least in areas where subscribers can’t receive the signals from their local broadcast affiliates.
In recent congressional testimony, David Moskowitz, senior VP and general counsel, said all the company needs is legislation to allow satellite TV to offer network DTV signals to subscribers who can’t receive those over the air.
“By allowing satellite TV providers to offer DTV programming to households that are not served with a local over-the-air signal, Congress would facilitate a demand for digital television sets among satellite TV subscribers,” Mr. Moskowitz said April 1 before the House telecommunications subcommittee. “Network availability of HD service will also motivate the broadcasters to make their digital signal available to more households sooner.”
But broadcasters are fighting the initiative.
“The DBS industry proposal-by an industry with a long track record of lawlessness-is a recipe for mischief,” said Bob Lee, president and general manager of WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, Va., a Schurz Communications station, in testimony in behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Not the least of the broadcast industry’s concerns, according to Mr. Lee, is that efforts by local stations to reclaim digital viewers from the distant signals when the local stations began offering their own DTV signals in a market would be met by a “consumer firestorm” of protest.
According to draft legislation by the House telecommunications subcommittee staff that was making the rounds last week, broadcasters have the ear of lawmakers on the digital carriage issue-at least for the short term-because the measure calls only for a Federal Communications Commission study to determine which subscribers won’t be able to receive digital broadcasts after Jan. 1, 2007.
“We’re reluctant to have the camel stick its nose under the tent in EchoStar’s desire to start selling HD signals around the country,” said Mr. Lee, in an interview.
But Mr. Moskowitz was making clear that has not given up on a proposal that offered “an immediate and practical solution to help ensure that the digital transition does not continue to proceed at today’s snail’s pace.”
Rewriting the Satellite Act
The debate over satellite TV industry rights to retransmit broadcast DTV signals is one of the issues that lawmakers are focusing on as they consider rewriting the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act-which sets the ground rules for satellite use of broadcast signals.
One of most contentious provisions of the law, which is slated to expire at the end of the year, gives satellite operators the right to retransmit the analog signals of broadcast networks to subscribers who can’t receive the signals from a local broadcast affiliate.
The satellite industry is lobbying to relax the standard for determining when subscribers qualify for distant-signal service-and they want to establish that right permanently, proposals that broadcasters are fighting.
In addition, the satellite industry wants to be able to continue grandfathering distant-signal delivery to some customers.
But broadcasters oppose grandfathering, arguing that all it does is let satellite distant-signal subscribers time-shift and view out-of-town sports.
“While NAB appreciates the committee’s desire to minimize consumer disruption, we respectfully suggest that there is no need to grandfather any subscriber’s ability to receive distant signals once local stations are offered to that subscriber,” Mr. Lee said.