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Satellite Rivals Appeal To Congress

Rivals DirecTv and EchoStar presented a rare unified front for Capitol Hill lawmakers in an effort to influence new satellite home viewer legislation that would, among other things, permit local television stations via satellite under terms "competitive" to those offered cable operators.

The public meeting of the foes was coordinated by the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association (SBCA) to try to influence a Congressional Conference Committee that must reconcile Senate and House bills updating the now expired Satellite Home Viewers Act.

Chief executive officers Eddy Hartenstein of DirecTv and Charlie Ergen of EchoStar were joined by U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY), U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D- VA), U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), and Consumers Union Co-director Gene Kimmelman to stress the importance of preserving meaningful competition to cable.

The SBCA said in a written statement, "We are... very concerned by reports that the House-Senate Conference may fail to produce satellite legislation that will provide much needed competition" to cable.

The satellite industry is concerned that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is leaning on lawmakers to re-enforce troublesome "Grade B restrictions," which make it illegal for satellite operators to offer distant network stations to consumers who only get weak or snowy network signals off air.

The NAB is also looking for cable must-carry requirements to extend to satellite systems and for satellite operators to obtain retransmission consent from all stations without adding non-discriminatory language that would allow equal carriage terms with cable companies.

At the same time, the National Cable Television Association is seeking full must-carry conditions for satellite systems and the exclusion of satellite systems from the 35-mile non-duplication rule and the retransmission phase-in period that apply to cable operators.

The satellite providers issued the following five key points they say must be included in the new legislation:

  • Language that ensures DBS providers can offer local-into-local service that can compete effectively with cable.

  • The creation by the Federal Communications Commission of a "modern television signal reception standard" to replace the current outmoded 1950s-era Grade B standard.

  • The creation by the FCC of the most accurate point-to-point predictive model for determining eligibility for distant network signals, including data for land use and cover.

  • Preventing signal termination for current subscribers predicted to receive over-the-air signals of less than Grade A intensity.

  • And the adoption of a proposal to provide government loan guarantees to nonprofit organizations in order to make it possible to provide local-into-local service via satellite to medium, small and rural markets.

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