FCC Backs EchoStar in HDTV Dispute


The only U.S. TV station operating around-the-clock in high-definition format
was denied carriage on direct-broadcast satellite systems Friday in a decision
by the Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau.

The FCC's ruling said station WHDT in Stuart, Fla., could not assert its DBS
must-carry rights because the agency lacked rules regulating terms of DBS
carriage of digital-TV stations.

Last August, WHDT filed a compliant after EchoStar Communications Corp.
refused the station's HDTV-carriage request.

"We are pleased with the FCC's decision," EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin
said Friday.

WHDT is the country's first and only 24-hour HDTV station. In a prior
decision, the FCC said WHDT could seek analog-cable carriage provided that the
station paid for the conversion equipment.

Regarding DBS carriage of digital-TV signals, the agency said it was still
considering its policy options.

If forced to carry WHDT in high-definition, EchoStar threatened to
discontinue local TV service in West Palm Beach, Fla., citing bandwidth

EchoStar said one HDTV signal occupied as much bandwidth as eight analog TV
stations, adding that it would rather serve an all-analog market than carry
bandwidth-intensive WHDT.

The DBS carrier offered to carry WHDT in standard-definition, but the station
refused the offer.

WHDT may appeal the bureau's ruling to the five FCC members or sue EchoStar
in federal court for violating the 1999 law that requires carriage of all local
TV stations in a market where a DBS carrier has elected to carry any. WHDT
lawyer Paul Feldman said he needed time to study the ruling.

If the FCC ultimately decides that local TV stations are entitled to HDTV
carriage on DBS, carriers might lack the bandwidth to pursue the local-market
strategy that has proved an effective weapon against cable operators.

Aware that DBS might not be able to carry local TV stations in HDTV,
cable-industry leaders have recently expressed interest in ramping up carriage
of local HDTV signals. MSO leaders have said that they view HDTV as offering a
competitive advantage over DBS.

Over the long term, EchoStar chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen has said that he
plans to stay competitive by rolling out a set-top that integrates local HDTV
signals captured with an off-air antenna.