B’cast-sat accord

Carriage of local signals cleared until Feb. '99

WASHINGTON — Broadcasters and satcasters have reached an agreement they hope will avoid a scheduled Oct. 8 cutoff of network programming for a million satcasting subscribers.

Under the agreement, CBS and Fox would ask a court in Miami to rescind its July decision which ordered that satellite-delivered web signals shut down for violating the broadcasters’ rights under the Satellite Home Viewing Act. Instead, the networks will stipulate that Primetime 24 and satcasting programmers will be allowed to beam network signals to satellite subscribers until Feb. 28, 1999.

Congressional mess

If the deal is approved by the Miami Court, it would clear up an embarrassing situation for broadcasters and members of Congress.

Last July, Fox and CBS won a court case in which they argued that Primetime 24 was breaking the law by providing network signals to subscribers who get the same network programming from their local stations. But shortly after the networks won their case, members of Congress became concerned that they would be blamed by a million voters for the loss of web programming. Members of Congress quickly began pressuring broadcasters to reach a compromise with the satcasters.

The legal battle between satcasters and broadcasters was brought on by the growth of the DBS industry during the last four years. With satcasting subscribers nationwide reaching 10 million, many TV stations discovered that hundreds of thousands of their viewers were watching network programming from stations thousands of miles away courtesy of DBS.

Violators in range

Broadcasters filed lawsuits in Texas, North Carolina and Florida which pointed out that it is illegal to sell network signals to a satellite subscriber who lives within range of a local network affiliate.

There are several bills making their way through Congress that would remedy the situation by allowing satcasters to provide a package of programming that includes local channels. But with the Oct. 8 deadline looming, broadcasters faced pressure from members of Congress to reach an immediate settlement with satcasters.

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