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Satcaster bill grows

Lawmakers mulling riders to local channels proposal

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators spent Thursday night nailing down the final details of a bill that will allow satcasters to provide local broadcast channels with the goal of holding a final vote on the bill by early next week.

The core of the bill has already been agreed to by House and Senate staffers and the final result has not pleased the satellite industry. Now negotiations are focused on proposals to use the satcasting legislation as a platform for passage of other proposals.

Among legislation that might be added to the satellite reform bill is so-called cybersquatting proposal that would make it easier for companies to protect their trademarks and famous people to protect their names on the Internet.

In the final days of negotiations over the satcasting bill, broadcasters won almost every single policy fight covering the terms and conditions for their copyright licenses to carry local broadcast channels.

EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen said he would oppose the bill but it was unclear Thursday if he had won any adjustments that would win his support. Ergen’s company has more than 3 million subscribers across the country. He claims that one of his biggest obstacles to signing up customers is the current rules that bar EchoStar’s Dish direct broadcasting service from offering local channels to customers who want it. But it may be too late. As one broadcast lobbyist put it, “It’s all but soup now.”

Potential ride-alongs

Several sources said the satcasting-related issues are now nailed down and Thursday night’s meeting was scheduled to decide what other legislation gets to ride along on the bill.

Adding cybersquatting to the bill could be problematic. The White House opposes the bill and has not ruled out the possibility of a veto on the legislation. The Clinton administration is concerned that if the U.S. acts unilaterally on cybersquatting, other countries may attempt to create their own policies. Because the Internet does not recognize international boundaries, the White House would like trademark related issues to be decided by an international mediating body.

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