Congress is beginning to nip at the edges of a court decision barring EchoStar’s Dish Network from providing signals from out-of-market network affiliates to 900,000 rural satellite TV subscribers.
Two separate bills offered by New Hampshire senators and a Colorado senator would in very limited circumstances allow EchoStar to reintroduce the channels in local markets in the senators’ states.
In New Hampshire, the legislation from Republican Sens. John Sununu and Judd Gregg would allow EchoStar to deliver the Boston-Manchester market’s WMUR-TV, an ABC affiliate, to New Hampshire viewers who are unable to receive it over the air. According to the senators, about 9,500 Dish Network subscribers in New Hampshire were among those who couldn’t get distant network signals from EchoStar as a result of the decision in the copyright infringement lawsuit. EchoStar’s Dish Network has about 13 million subscribers.
“The current disruption of service is unacceptable,” the two senators said in a statement announcing their reintroduction of legislation they offered late last year in the previous congressional session. “Although valuable programming is available from neighboring markets, northern New Hampshire residents have repeatedly expressed their demand for local news, emergency information and programs offered by [WMUR].”
The legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Colorado legislation from Republican Sen. Wayne Allard would allow subscribers of any cable or satellite service in two rural Colorado counties that fall in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M., designated market area to get Denver stations, despite the ruling.
“Colorado residents deserve Colorado television [and] should be able to receive Colorado news statewide and cheer on the Broncos like the rest of the state,” Sen. Allard said last year when he introduced similar legislation. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee.
Sen. Allard last year also joined with Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., to attempt to overturn the EchoStar ruling, but so far that legislation has not been reintroduced.
EchoStar lost the rights to deliver the signals Dec. 1 after an appellate court ruled that it had failed to adequately enforce eligibility limits that restrict the signals to rural residents who don’t get good in-market signals from network affiliates. Broadcasters had complained that EchoStar provided out-of-market network affiliates to ineligible customers.
While EchoStar is no longer providing out-of-market signals, part of the company’s satellite system is being used by the National Programming Service, which offers the out-of-market signals to eligible subscribers. The National Association of Broadcasters has complained that the National Programming Service signals violate the court ruling.
EchoStar rival DirecTV declined comment on the legislation.