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Congress Renews Satellite Act

Washington, D.C. – Congress passed a number of key items in renewing the satellite home viewer act, including a requirement that EchoStar phase out its current use of two-dishes for local TV channels, while enabling satellite companies to offer out-of-market digital broadcast channels to consumers living in so-called “white areas.”

The measures were part of a bill called the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004, which was included in a $388 billion spending bill.

Included in the legislations is a requirement that satellite operators use a single dish for local-TV channel services within 18 months. Currently, EchoStar’s customers in 38 out of 150 markets must install two dishes to receive all of the local stations offered in their area.

The practice has been vigorously opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters. DirecTV currently does not require multiple dishes to serve its customers, and VOOM does not offer local channels.

Under the new provisions, EchoStar and other providers would be able use two dishes, if all local stations are delivered to one dish. Satellite companies are also allowed to offer all analog stations on one dish and all digital stations to another.

Commenting on the requirement EchoStar said that it “is disappointed that the bill inappropriately singles out EchoStar for unfair treatment” but it “will work with local broadcasters, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to meet this tight deadline and to minimize the impact on consumers.”

Meanwhile, EchoStar and others applauded a provision of the bill that allows satellite companies to initially deliver digital television network programming from ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX to consumers who can not receive analog signals from local affiliates over the air.

Then, in up to three years, satellite providers will be allowed to begin offering distant digital and high definition TV network channels to consumers who can not receive that programming in over-the-air digital broadcasts.

EchoStar and the Consumer Electronics Association applauded the measure, saying it would prod reluctant local broadcasters into offering their digital broadcasts at full power.

“The Senate took a bold step toward helping millions of Americans join the digital television revolution by reauthorizing SHVIA,” the CEA said in a prepared statement. “… Just as these viewers can receive network broadcasts in standard definition via satellite, they now will be able to view them in the full glory of HDTV.”

In other provisions, the new legislation extends for five years the right of satellite operators to transmit the four major networks from New York and Los Angeles to subscribers in other areas where that programming is not available over the air, and to sell superstations to any subscriber without the need of retransmission consent.