Washington -- Key lawmakers are expected to meet Tuesday
(Sept. 28) for the first time to try to wrap up legislation allowing direct-broadcast
satellite carriers to retransmit local TV signals.
The popular legislation (H.R. 1554 and S. 247) has
languished since May 20, when the Senate passed its version one month after the House of
Representatives acted. Pressure is building on DBS because its license to transmit distant
network signals and superstations expires Dec. 31.
Tuesday's meeting was scheduled at a Sept. 23
gathering of staffers to the 18 lawmakers on the conference committee.
EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman Charles Ergen said
last week that he was pleased to see signs of progress, but he didn't know if the
meetings would lead to acceptable legislation.
Lawmakers have several key issues to resolve, including:
whether DBS carriers have to comply with full must-carry Jan. 1, 2002; whether
broadcasters are barred from signing exclusive and discriminatory retransmission-consent
deals; and whether dish owners who currently get distant network signals can continue to
do so after local signals are available.
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House
Telecommunications Subcommittee, said he was still hoping House Speaker Dennis Hastert
(R-Ill.) could expedite the House-Senate negotiations. Tauzin has tried to regain momentum
for the legislation.
Ergen said last week that if final legislation required him
to carry every TV signal in a served market, only the largest markets would be served
initially. More markets would get service after EchoStar launched more satellites.
"Middle America is left out of this legislation with
[full] must-carry," he added.
Also last week, EchoStar complained to the Federal
Communications Commission that testing by Northpoint Technology Ltd. in the Washington,
D.C., area was causing signal interference, especially during rain.
Northpoint is testing a terrestrial system to deliver local
TV signals by sharing DBS frequencies.