Senate Panel OKs Retransmission Measure

Jul 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a mixed bag for broadcasters, the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would require satellite operators to offer all retransmissions of local broadcast signals on a single dish within 18 months.

EchoStar Communications had been lobbying for the right to keep the signals on two dishes in key markets. Broadcasters persuaded lawmakers that the two-dish policy is discriminatory. Nonetheless, the legislation also opens the door for satellite companies to offer distant digital TV signals to subscribers that can’t receive those from local affiliates — an initiative broadcasters have opposed.

Still, pro-broadcast provisions in the legislation make clear that satellite operators can only offer the distant network digital signals in areas where they are already offering the local analog signals of broadcast stations. In addition, the legislation would require satellite operators to cut off the distant network feeds within 120 days of the time an affiliate begins offering digital service to the homes at issue.

Under yet another provision in the legislation, violations of the new provisions would subject satellite operators to fines of $11,000 per day per subscriber.

In a statement, EchoStar said it was disappointed with the Senate panel’s two-dish policy, even though the company said the 18-month grace period provided was preferable to the one-year deadline included in legislation previously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. EchoStar also said the panel’s digital TV provisions would benefit millions of Americans, particularly in rural areas.

“We believe the bill approved by the committee encourages broadcasters to hasten the transition from analog to digital by making high-definition TV available to consumers via satellite in areas that local broadcasters don’t reach,” EchoStar said.

In other action Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee approved public broadcasting legislation that urges the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to underwrite station programming that serves “the needs and interests of the recipient’s local community.” In a blow to broadcasters, the committee also approved legislation that could clear the way for the introduction of hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations in the United States.