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DirecTv Bows HDTV For Thomson Set Owners

With the arrival of August, DirecTv had a good news/bad news message for subscribers of its satellite services.

The good news: DirecTv is now offering HBO-HDTV service to subscribers who have purchased a fully integrated RCA or ProScan HDTV set.

The bad news: subscribers living in Grade A off-air TV reception areas were being cut off from distant TV network services in accordance with a court order.

According to a DirecTv spokesperson, the satellite company is now offering HBO-HD services to subscribers who have regular HBO service packages. However, Thomson only began a limited rollout of its ProScan PS61000 ($7,999 SRP) fully integrated HDTV set during the first week of August. According to a Thomson spokesman, the company was waiting for the new 24″ satellite dish that is necessary for the set to pick up the HDTV feeds. RCA models will follow later, he added. To date, DirecTv’s HDTV programming has been offered only for showroom demonstrations purposes.

Meanwhile, DirecTv last month resumed disconnecting unqualified subscribers from distant network TV services.

The satellite carrier had reached an agreement with broadcasters to extend the cutoff deadline to July 31, but the absence of finished federal legislation outlining new satellite home viewer rights meant that more so-called “Grade A” customers would lose services. These are people living in areas that receive strong off-air local network signals, according to Federal Communication Commission guidelines.

At the same time, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), which is fighting the discontinuation of network signals to its rural customers, attempted to delay the action. The NRTC said it has new evidence showing that a broadcast standard-related computer program used by DirecTv and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to determine service eligibility is flawed.

The group said the Individual Location Longley-Rice (ILLR) computer model that is used to determine Grade B viewer areas is so inaccurate that it classifies some areas that receive no off-air signals as Grade A – areas that receive the strongest signals.

In response, Pegasus Communications, which owns a number of broadcast stations and also runs a DirecTv distribution service, issued a temporary “blanket” waiver allowing all subscribers receiving a Grade A-quality signal to continue viewing network signals via satellite until the situation is clarified.

“By the end of July, many, many consumers who live in the so-called `Grade A’ contour will lose their satellite-delivered networks like CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox as a result of having been deemed ineligible for service based on this computer program,” said Bob Phillips, president/CEO of NRTC.

Meanwhile, the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association said that members of a congressional conference working on satellite legislation will soon break for summer recess and may not meet to begin drafting new language for a combined House and Senate bill until September.

Grade A customers are to have distant network broadcasts shut off now, while subscribers living in Grade B areas – territories that receive “an acceptable” signal according the FCC – are to have the services shut off as of December. 31, unless a new law offers an alternative.