×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Irked Echo unplugs subs

Satcaster shuts off signals to protest bill

WASHINGTON — Thousands of satellite subscribers lost network programming over the weekend, as EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen called Congress’ bluff and began shutting off signals to subs while urging them to register complaints over a pending reform bill with their elected representatives.

Ergen’s decision to use his subscriber base to play politics comes as a pending satellite bill continues to be bogged down in the Senate. Finance Committee chairman Phil Gramm (R-Texas) is blocking the bill, which was expected to have been signed into law by now. Gramm claims a provision of the bill must be approved by his committee.

Last week the House chalked up a 411-8 vote in favor of a bill allowing satcasters to add local broadcast stations to their channel lineup. EchoStar maintains that the subscribers would lose their signals under the pending satellite reform bill, and by shutting off those signals it was just beginning a process that would soon be required by law.

Ergen is taking advantage of the delay to mobilize his growing subscriber base.

After lobbying for the bill for more than three years, Ergen was upset with the final product, which leans heavily toward policy positions taken by the broadcasting industry. For instance, the bill gives Ergen only six months to sign deals with the broadcasting industry that will allow him to retransmit their signals to subscribers. And after two years, he will have to carry every broadcast channel in markets where he offers local service — a provision he says that will limit the number of markets he’ll be able to serve.

Rough transition

In addition, the bill requires Ergen to cut off network feeds to all homes in the markets where he provides local signals on the very day that he launches his local service. The customers must be cut off whether or not they sign up for the local channels. Ergen believes that will create an extremely rough transition for a large percentage of his 3 million subscribers who get their network programming from stations that are sometimes thousands of miles away.

And Ergen is not the only one trying to gain some ground this week with respect to the satcasting reform bill. Online companies such as AOL are very upset to discover language in the bill that would prevent them from offering broadcast TV programming via the Internet. The bill specifically states that the license that allows satellite and cable companies to retransmit local TV stations does not apply to Internet Service Providers.

Content providers chime in

Content providers such as film studios, broadcasters and sports leagues are fighting to keep the language in. The copyright holders worry that the Internet could undermine their ability to make regional copyright agreements. After all, once someone is on the Internet, it doesn’t matter if he is watching programming that originates in Paris, Texas, or Paris, France.

Even before the House approved the bill, Gramm vowed to block the legislation over a provision that would give a loan guarantee to satellite companies that offer local channels to rural areas and small markets. Gramm insists that his committee has to review all loan guarantees and says he will stand in the way of the popular legislation until the provision is removed.

Deadline looms

Whether or not congressional switchboards are flooded with calls from angry EchoStar subscribers, Capitol Hill needs to make a decision in the next few days on the satellite legislation. Congress is preparing to wrap up their work and head home for the year. If no action is taken, Congress will fail in jump-starting competition to cable. What’s more, the license that allows satcasters to retransmit any network feeds to their subscribers will not have been renewed, meaning that millions of subs will lose all of their satellite-delivered network programming.

In these closing days, tempers are running high and Democrats are beginning to see satcasting reform as a potential campaign issue. If Congress fails to take action on the bill, Democrats may point to it as an example of Republican legislative incompetence.

More TV

  • NBCU Reality Streaming Service Hayu Launches

    NBCU’s Reality Streaming Service Hayu Launches in Three New Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    It’s easier to keep up with the Kardashians in the Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg after NBCUniversal launched its reality-TV streaming service, hayu, in those countries Tuesday. The service went live with about 6,000 episodes of unscripted fare from NBCUniversal’s lineup, including “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Made in Chelsea” and “The Real Housewives” and [...]

  • Arrow -- "Elseworlds, Part 2" --

    'Elseworlds, Part 2' Recap: Batwoman's 'Arrowverse' Story Begins

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Elseworlds, Part 2” the second part of the 2018 “Arrowverse” crossover, which aired Dec. 10. “Arrow’s” leg of the “Elseworlds” crossover had a little more to think about than “The Flash’s,” mainly because it served as the first introduction to Ruby Rose’s Batwoman. For [...]

  • Michael Uslan's U2K Becomes Asia-Hollywood Formats

    Michael Uslan's U2K Becomes Asia-Hollywood Formats Pipeline (EXCLUSIVE)

    Michael and David Uslan, the father and son producing team with credits that include “The Dark Knight” and “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch” have struck a cluster of deals that makes them a two-way conduit for TV formats between Hollywood and Asia. U2K, a company that includes the Uslans and Jon Karas (“Believe in [...]

  • Court TV Brand to Resurface as

    Court TV Brand to Resurface as New Channel From Scripps Co.

    Court TV is back in session. The cable TV channel that once carried gavel-to-gavel live coverage of high-profile trials will be revived by a new owner, nearly a dozen years after it was shuttered by Turner Broadcasting. Katz Networks, a division of E.W. Scripps Co., plans to revive Court TV as a new channel designed [...]

  • Gina Rodriguez Carmen Sandiego

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's Carmen Sandiego Series With Gina Rodriguez Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announced a premiere date for its upcoming Carmen Sandiego series and Stars released the premiere date for its original comedy series “Now Apocalypse.” DATES Lifetime will debut a new Gretchen Carlson documentary Jan. 14 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, Variety has learned exclusively. The two-hour special titled “Gretchen Carlson: Breaking [...]

  • Craig Hunegs WB

    Craig Hunegs to Exit Warner Bros. TV Group and Digital Networks (EXCLUSIVE)

    After nearly 25 years in the Warner Bros. family, Craig Hunegs is exiting his post as head of business for Warner Bros. TV Group and president of the studio’s digital networks wing. Hunegs said he has been discussing his exit with Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara for the past several months. At a time of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content