Satcasters handed bittersweet message

House backs must-carry clause

WASHINGTON — Satcasters were handed a mixed bag by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. It approved legislation allowing DBS companies to retransmit local TV stations, but also requiring them to carry all the local channels if they carry any at all.

Satcasters are desperate for changes to current copyright laws so they can offer a slate of programming that includes local channels, but they insist that it is technologically and economically impossible to offer all the TV channels in markets like New York and Los Angeles, which each have more than a dozen local stations.

Instead of an immediate “must-carry” requirement for local stations, satcasters would like to see it phased in over time. The most likely scenario is that they would kick off any local programming tier with a package that includes the major network affiliates and one or two widely viewed stations.

The major satcasting companies have between 100 and 200 channels, not nearly enough capacity to carry all of the natio’s 1,600 TV stations. But the National Assn. of Broadcasters argues that without the “must-carry” requirement, stations unaffiliated with the major networks would not get carriage on the satellite services.

The issue has heated up during the last few years, as the DBS industry has flourished, signing up 7 million subscribers in the U.S. But the direct-to-home industry has had one of the most successful launches of a consumer product without local TV programming.

EchoStar’s Charlie Ergen has testified in front of Congress that more than 30 million people decided against purchasing a DBS system after learning they could not receive local channels.

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