FCC Backs DirecTV in Houston

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A TV station in the Houston market that mailed a letter one day late was
denied mandatory access to DirecTV Inc.'s satellite system for the next four
years under a decision by the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday.

KNWS, the broadcast home of the Houston Astros Major League Baseball team,
mailed its must-carry election to DirecTV July 2. DirecTV denied the request
because the letter had to be postmarked by July 1 under FCC rules. KNWS is owned
by Johnson Broadcasting Inc.

In September, Johnson filed a complaint with the FCC saying that because July
1 was a Sunday, it had an additional day to send the letter by certified mail to
DirecTV.

In the decision, the FCC said KNWS had eight months' notice that the election
deadline was July 1. The commission added that when it establishes a filing
deadline with a specific date, it does not permit any grace period for Sundays
and holidays.

The FCC said it was important for it to adhere to the deadline in order to
provide certainty to TV stations and direct-broadcast satellite carriers and to
avoid having to referee numerous complaints about whether deadlines had been
met.

Under the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999, DBS carriers are
required upon request to carry every local TV station in a market where they
have elected to carry any local TV stations.

Because the 'carry one, carry all' mandate takes effect Jan. 1, 2002, the FCC
ordered TV stations to make their must carry elections by July 1, 2001.

KNWS, based in Katy, Texas, operates in the Houston market, where DirecTV is
offering the affiliates of the four major networks.

Because the station elected must-carry, KNWS does not have the option now to
elect retransmission consent, which would involve negotiating carriage with
DirecTV.

Because the FCC decision was handed down by W. Kenneth Ferree, chief of the
agency's Cable Services Bureau, KNWS may appeal the decision to the four FCC
members. But the commission rarely reverses a bureau decision.

KNWS might also file suit against DirecTV in federal district court, alleging
that the DBS carrier is in violation of the 'carry one, carry all' mandate in
the Houston market.

In addition, the TV station might claim that DirecTV faces copyright
liability for failing to carry all local TV stations in the Houston market after
Jan. 1.

The FCC has received dozens of DBS must-carry complaints from TV stations.
KNWS' was the first one resolved by the commission.

Johnson has another complaint pending against DirecTV in Dallas. DirecTV
rejected the must-carry election there because KLDT sent the election letter
July 2.

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