Carriage on Tap at High Court


The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide this coming week whether to hear a
case on the constitutionality of a local broadcast-TV-carriage law as applied to
the direct-broadcast satellite industry.

Under the law, a DBS carrier is required to carry every requesting local TV
station in a market where that carrier has elected to provide any local TV

The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association and EchoStar
Communications Corp. maintained that the carriage mandate violates the First
Amendment because it effectively restricts the number of markets a DBS carrier
may serve and promotes the speech of lightly viewed stations in a served market
over that of network affiliates in an unserved market.

DirecTV Inc. -- the parent company of which, Hughes Electronics Corp., is
hoping to merge with EchoStar -- was an original plaintiff but dropped out of
the case in March.

The carriage mandate -- a 1999 provision of the Satellite Home Viewer
Improvement Act -- was upheld in December by a panel of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just a few weeks before the 'carry one, carry
all' mandate was to take effect.

The three-judge panel held that the law fell within the traditional bounds of
the First Amendment and represented a tailored attempt by Congress to ensure
that satellite carriers did not disrupt local TV markets by cherry-picking the
most popular stations -- typically, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox --
and ignoring the rest.

According to the Supreme Court's calendar, the nine justices are schedule to
convene privately June 13 to decide whether to take the case. The court plans to
make its decision public June 17. It takes the votes of four justices at a
minimum for the court to agree to hear a case.

A few weeks ago, the high court dismissed without comment EchoStar's First
Amendment challenge to a law that restricts a DBS carrier's ability to provide
subscribers with the signals of network affiliates from distant