Ergen: Dish Wont Sue on Must-Carry

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Washington-EchoStar Communications Corp. said last week that it would not go to court to overturn must-carry rules on satellite carriers.

But his peers declined to take a similar stand.

Chairman Charlie Ergen disclosed EchoStar's position in a conference call with reporters last Monday. "We don't have plans as a company personally to challenge it," he said.

Under a law passed last year, Congress said direct-broadcast satellite carriers had to carry all local stations in markets where they elect to carry even one. The mandate takes effect Jan. 1, 2002.

Ergen lobbied against inclusion of DBS must-carry, saying the mandate would eat up channel capacity, restrict the number of markets his company could serve with the four major TV networks and diminish head-to-head competition with cable.

The cable industry fought must-carry but lost, 5-4, at the U.S. Supreme Court. Many observers believe DBS would have an easier time than cable in killing must-carry because DBS lacks cable's market clout.

Ergen said that if Congress made a move to lift DBS must-carry, he would not oppose it.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which pressed to include DBS must-carry in the satellite-competition law, declined to comment on Ergen's statement.

The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association-the DBS trade group based in Alexandria, Va.-said it was keeping legal options open regarding a court challenge to DBS must-carry.

Although DirecTV Inc. declined to comment on the issue for now, a company spokesman said, "Full must-carry is the single biggest impediment to expanding local signals to small and midsized markets."

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