EchoStar Questions DirecTV’s Local HD


There’s no better witness for cable’s HDTV advantage than the competition.

EchoStar Communications Corp. told the Federal Communications Commission it should be “skeptical” of DirecTV Inc.’s broad promises to provide hundreds of HDTV channels beginning later this year.

In a Jan. 14 filing that touched on a number of digital-TV issues, EchoStar attorneys also claimed that DirecTV’s HDTV plans offered no justification for the government forcing EchoStar to do the same thing.

EchoStar argued that DirecTV’s plan to provide 1,500 TV stations in HDTV in 2007 rests on the use of four Ka-band satellites, which are susceptible to rain fade “in large regions of the country” and remain “relatively untested for direct-to-home video delivery.”

Last September, DirecTV announced that it would launch two satellites this year that would offer 500 local TV stations in HDTV, and that it would launch two more in 2007, bringing the number of local HDTV stations to 1,500.

The United States has 1,748 local commercial and public TV stations, according to the FCC.

EchoStar added that in addition to rain-fade problems, DirecTV’s new Ka-band satellites will share spectrum with terrestrial microwave services, perhaps limiting delivery of HD services on a scale envisioned by DirecTV.

“It is not clear that DirecTV’s plan fully takes into account these constraints on the Ka-band spectrum,” EchoStar explained.

DirecTV spokesman Bob Marsocci said the company’s plan to launch the first two satellites this year and to roll out more local HD content had not changed.

“With the successful launch of these satellites, we will commence our local-HD-channel service in 12 markets by midyear. Additional markets will follow later this year,” Marsocci said in an e-mail.

EchoStar also used the filing to warn the FCC that requiring carriage of local TV stations in HD format would eat up channel capacity, forcing it to abandon some local markets or to bump channels that it already provides.

Cable operators, EchoStar pointed out, use less spectrum to provide a TV station’s HDTV signal than its analog signal. But DBS operators, it added, use more spectrum for HD than for analog converted to standard-definition digital.

As a result, forcing direct-broadcast satellite providers to carry a local station’s HDTV feed instead of a downconverted version ends up “exacerbating the difference in bandwidth between” cable and DBS, EchoStar said.

Echoing the position taken by the cable industry, EchoStar also came out against a multicast-carriage mandate, which would require carriage of every digital-programming service a TV station could pack into its 6-megahertz allotment.

“The multicast obligation is an unadorned handout to broadcasters, at the expense of DBS operators’ First Amendment rights,” EchoStar said.