EchoStar Looks to Supreme Court for Relief


EchoStar Communications is planning to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to protect more than a half-million subscribers from losing access to out-of-market feeds of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox programming if a private settlement with hundreds of local TV stations can't be reached.

As a result of court setbacks in copyright disputes, EchoStar may have to terminate distant network service to 1.2 million customers in all, including about 600,000 who have been receiving the programming legally. An abrupt cutoff would likely inflict financial pain on EchoStar and generate a strong political backlash on Capitol Hill.

Legal scenarios are expected to play out in three courts as key House lawmakers wait to learn whether thousands of voters are going to lose access to network programming stemming from a court case that has dragged on for years and received little attention.

First, EchoStar Tuesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit -- which authorized the injunction back in May and just rejected EchoStar’s appeal -- to stay the ruling pending the outcome of the appeal it will file in the Supreme Court.

If the 11th Circuit rejects EchoStar’s stay motion, the case would return to a U.S. District Court in south Florida for processing of the injunction.

Second, in preparation of the stay denial, EchoStar and network-affiliated TV stations that sued EchoStar jointly asked the lower court Tuesday to postpone any injunction until Sept. 11. Both sides informed the court that they were attempting to reach a settlement.

The parties were urged to file for a 45-day postponement by key members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Lastly, if the District Court ignores the postponement request, EchoStar still has the option of asking the Supreme Court to lift the injunction while considering the merits of the appeal of the 11th Circuit's May ruling.

In that decision, the 11th Circuit found that EchoStar had flagrantly broken the law by selling out-of-market network signals to thousands of ineligible customers.