House dishes defeat to EchoStar

Action is first step to reauthorize Satellite Home Viewer Act

WASHINGTON — A House panel handily approved a bill Wednesday that would force satcasters to offer all local programming on a single dish rather than require subscribers to get several dishes.

Move was a setback for EchoStar, which has repeatedly argued that it can reach more markets by splitting all of its signals into two separate dish antennas for subscribers wanting access to all channels including local broadcasts.

Local broadcasters welcomed the news, as did religious and Spanish-language TV congloms, which maintain EchoStar places their channels on the less popular dish.

Several members of Congress viewed EchoStar’s two-dish practice as a violation of laws requiring satcasters to give local broadcasters the same treatment as larger nets and national programmers. The lawmakers offered the provision in the bill as a remedy.

A satellite industry group took issue with the bill and complained that it helps local broadcasters more than satellite companies and consumers.

“It seems to me that Congress is missing a great opportunity to expand consumer choice and increase competition,” said Richard DalBello, president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Assn.

The committee action is the first step in Congress’ attempt to reauthorize the Satellite Home Viewer Act.

When it was first enacted in 1999, the legislation was designed to help satcasters such as DirecTV and EchoStar compete with cable.

New version of the act would also allow satcasters to offer consumers network signals located in distant areas if they are “significantly viewed” in their local areas, as long as the companies also offer local broadcast station coverage.

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