Senate legislation introduced Tuesday would give EchoStar Communications Corp. more time than House legislation to stop requiring consumers in dozens of markets to obtain free second dishes to view all local TV stations.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) unveiled his 21-page bill extending the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act for another five years, along with some modifications that are certain to upset the local broadcasting lobby.
The House bill would give EchoStar just one year to stop the two-dish requirement, which applies in about 40 markets.
Ensign’s bill would phase it out by Dec. 31, 2007, giving EchoStar at least one additional year to comply.
The Senate Commerce Committee is schedule to vote on the bill July 20.
In another provision favorable to EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen, the bill would allow direct-broadcast satellite providers to import distant HDTV feeds of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to dish owners who can’t receive that high-resolution format from the local affiliates.
Once digital signals become available from the local affiliates, satellite importation would have to cease within 120 days.
Ergen has pushed for that HDTV-importation policy, saying that TV stations have defaulted on their commitment to use free digital spectrum to offer HDTV ubiquitously.
The National Association of Broadcasters has strongly objected, claiming that digital signals are widely available and that all Ergen wants to do is poach customers who should be viewing network programming locally.
Ensign’s bill would also classify aircraft and federally documented ships as “unserved households,” which means that they would automatically be eligible to purchase distant network feeds transmitted by satellite carriers.