Senate passes local satcast measure

Bill allows local p'gramming for broadcasters

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed Thursday a bill designed to allow satcasters the opportunity to provide a programming package that includes local channels.

The House has passed similar legislation and the now legislators from both sides of Capitol Hill must meet to hammer out the differences in the two bills.

Originally only EchoStar had local television channels in its business plan, but after the House passed its version of the so-called “local into local” legislation, DirecTV announced it would also offer broadcast channels in 20 top markets. EchoStar offers local programming to subscribers in 13 of the nation’s top markets.

Lobbyists for broadcasters and satcasters will now squabble over details of the legislation including how soon subscribers who now receive signals from other markets will have their signals cut off. In addition, there are also still differences between satcasters and broadcasters over who qualifies as a local subscriber and which subscribers will be allowed to purchase programming that originates in other markets.

For the next two years, satcasters will be allowed to pick and choose which stations to carry, but after 2001 they will be obligated to carry all of the stations in a market where they offer local programming.