EchoStar Communications Corp. has until Jan. 7 to meet its
public-interest-channel set-aside obligations after the Federal Communications Commission
rejected its plan to use spectrum on a satellite that does not completely cover the United
EchoStar had offered up NASA Channel, C-SPAN, Eternal Word
Television Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network to meet the FCC requirement that 4
percent of its spectrum be given over to public-interest programming.
Those four networks would not be enough to meet the 4
percent mandate, so EchoStar said it would create an "educational neighborhood"
using satellite spectrum beamed from 61.5 degrees west longitude, which does not
completely cover the country. EchoStar's core service uses the 119 degrees slot.
The FCC -- which wants the public-interest programming to
be distributed by all direct-broadcast satellites -- rejected the 61.5-degrees proposal.
An EchoStar spokesman said the company plans to comply with
an FCC mandate that it fulfill the public-interest requirements by Jan. 7. The company was
not ready to discuss additional public-interest programming last week.
Monica Pilkey, director of education services for Sarasota,
Fla.-based Educating Everyone, said her company completed its review process and
recommended a number of educational-programming options that would help EchoStar to meet
the requirements, adding that it was up to EchoStar to implement the program.
"We're anxiously awaiting to see how things turn
out," Pilkey said.
DirecTV Inc. has designated nine public-interest channels.
Three previously available networks -- C-SPAN, EWTN and TBN -- were included. The six new
channels are WorldLink TV, NASA, PBS YOU, StarNet, Clara+Vision and Inspirational Life.
Only four of those networks -- C-SPAN, TBN, WorldLink and
PBS YOU -- are beamed from DirecTV's core service at 101 degrees west. The rest are
delivered from 119 degrees.
This raises questions about whether public-interest
programming can be considered a free service if subscribers must purchase new DBS hardware
to get it. The FCC is likely to address such complaints in the future, according to one
The set-asides were mandated under the Cable Television
Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, and they require that the public-interest
programming be noncommercial and educational or informational in nature.
A spokesman for Noggin -- the nascent noncommercial
children's network created by Nickelodeon and Children's Television Workshop --
said the FCC has not yet ruled on whether it would qualify as a public-interest channel.