DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. are
reviewing proposals from educational and special-interest programmers in an attempt to
meet a Dec. 15 deadline for filling 4 percent of each provider's direct-broadcast
satellite channel capacity with free programming that serves the public interest.
The Federal Communications Commission required the 4
percent set-aside. The commission has not yet ruled on whether EchoStar must broadcast its
set-aside channels from the full-CONUS (continental U.S.) satellites that serve its core
Dish Network service, an FCC spokeswoman said last week.
Distance-learning interests challenged EchoStar's
plans to meet public-interest obligations with spectrum at the 61.5 degrees west longitude
position. Most current Dish Network subscribers would need an extra dish to see that
Monica Pilkey, director of education services for Sarasota,
Fla.-based Educating Everyone, which is reviewing programmers' proposals for
EchoStar's set-aside channels, said the 61.5-degrees slot "is not our favorite
place to be." But it made more sense for educational programmers to proceed with the
review process and not wait for the matter to be settled, she said.
DirecTV has not said which of its three orbital locations
would be used to meet its set-aside requirements. While all are full CONUS, most current
DirecTV subscribers have equipment that can only see channels from 101 degrees.
Stephanie Campbell, DirecTV's senior vice president of
programming, said the company would announce the number and orbital locations of the
public-interest channels it will launch this year in early December.
DirecTV chose to review its public-interest proposals
in-house. A formal application process that began in June is now being finalized. New
applications will be taken on an ongoing basis, Campbell said.
EchoStar has heard from a number of groups who would like
to use the set-aside channels, including foreign-language institutions, universities,
distance-learning programs, tele-medicine outlets, K -12 curriculum providers and other
special interests, said director of educational services Polly Dawkins.
All of the groups are not prepared to program a
24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week channel on their own, Dawkins said. And some schools
don't want a Dec. 15 start date, because they are not in session then, she added.
DBS providers can charge the public-interest programmers up
to half the cost of the bandwidth they use. Programmers are responsible for their own
production costs. Under FCC rules, the public-service programmers cannot charge DBS
subscribers to view their channels.
Funding could come through the sale of supplemental texts
or online access to teachers, as well as from corporate sponsors and other underwriters.
Commercial-free Noggin, a channel created by the Public
Broadcasting Service and Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon, asked to be considered for the
DBS set-aside although it is not technically a not-for-profit entity. The FCC yet to rule
on Noggin's eligibility.