Dish Avoids STELA Noncom Mandate


Dish Network has managed to avoid the expedited noncommercial high-definition carriage mandate in the newly reauthorized satellite distant signal blanket license law by striking an independent HD distribution agreement with at least 30 noncommercial stations, the company confirmed to Multichannel News.

But it still plans to challenge the law that forced it to strike that deal.

After a court rejected its request for a preliminary injunction against the mandate, the satellite operator was facing a July 27 deadline in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act for either striking its own, independent carriage deal with at least 30 noncoms, or be subject to a mandate that it carry all noncommercial stations in HD by the end of next year rather than by 2013, the FCC deadline -- as part of a phase-in plan -- for satellite HD carriage for commercial and noncommercial stations alike.

The No. 2 DBS provider had tried to negotiate a blanket deal with the Association of Public Television Stations, but had failed to do so. The pact was not with APTS, which represents noncoms nationwide, but does include a geographically diverse group of stations, according to the company, which had no comment on when that HD carriage would begin. The law only requred that the deals be struck by July 27.

Dish filed the injunction three weeks ago in Nevada, where it is incorporated, because it faced the July 27 deadline for coming to carriage terms with 30 noncom stations or triggering an accelerated (by the end of next year) timetable for carriage of all noncommercial signals in any market where it carries any stations in HD.

Dish's bone to pick wasn't with the FCC, which is required to enforce the law, but with the legislation that it argues puts a thumb on the scale in favor of a particular type of programming.

The distributor has said that the mandate violates its First and Fifth Amendment rights and has already put a crimp in business plans it based on the 2008 FCC timetable for phasing in HD carriage of all local TV stations, including noncoms, by 2013.

Dish said it will continue to push the constitutional challenge to the law in the Ninth Circuit, both the requirement that it had to forge the 30-station deal to avoid the mandate, and the mandate itself.

 "The court's ruling is a victory for consumers who deserve access to public broadcasting in the same high-quality as they receive commercial programming, " said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who was the driving force behind the noncom HD mandate in STELA. "While Dish is complying with the court's ruling by signing noncommercial stations, their decision to appeal is a disservice to their customers. The other major carriers offer PBS in high-definition and it's high-time Dish joins the fold."