EchoStar Communications Corp. is seeking federal approval to offer
digital-broadcast signals in markets where TV stations have failed to meet
digital-TV rollout deadlines set by the Federal Communications Commission.
By next May, all 1,300 commercial TV stations are required to transmit
digital signals, but the industry expects about one-third of those stations to
miss the deadline and seek extensions from the FCC.
EchoStar -- the No. 2 direct-broadcast satellite carrier, with 6 million
subscribers -- is asking the FCC to deny waivers to the affiliates of ABC, NBC,
CBS and Fox unless those stations agree to allow EchoStar to provide out-of-town
digital-TV signals in markets where the rollout has stalled.
'Under our proposal,' EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen said in a Sept. 20
letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell, 'a broadcaster that fails to meet its
digital deadline would not be able to receive relief from the [FCC] while
denying consumers digital television.'
EchoStar said its proposal would serve the dual purpose of exposing consumers
to broadcast digital-TV signals and spurring TV stations to advance the
build-out of digital TV has quickly as possible.
'In other words,' Ergen explained, 'if the broadcaster
will not provide consumers with a digital signal, we will.'
The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents hundreds of
network affiliates, immediately rejected EchoStar's proposal. For years, the NAB
has been fighting satellite carriers that invade local TV markets with network
programming from out-of-town markets.
'Given the tremendous effort broadcasters have made and are making to meet
the DTV deadlines, Mr. Ergen's request is ridiculous on its face,' NAB
spokesman Dennis Wharton said.