Direct-broadcast satellite must-carry is the law of the land.
The Supreme Court Monday refused to hear a case challenging the 1999 law that
requires DBS carriers to carry all requesting local TV stations in markets where
they have elected to carry any.
EchoStar Communications Corp. challenged the law under the First Amendment
but lost in U.S. District Court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Without comment, the nine-member high court refused to consider EchoStar's
appeal of the Fourth Circuit's ruling.
EchoStar, joined by the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications
Association, maintained that the carriage law violates the First Amendment
because it effectively restricts the number of markets a DBS carrier may serve
and promotes the speech of lightly viewed stations in a served market over that
of network affiliates in an unserved market.
The Fourth Circuit held that the law fell within the traditional bounds of
the First Amendment and represented a tailored attempt by Congress to ensure
that satellite carriers did not disrupt local TV markets by cherry-picking the
most popular stations -- typically, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox --
and ignoring the rest.
DirecTV Inc. -- the parent company of which, Hughes Electronics Corp., is
hoping to merge with EchoStar -- was an original plaintiff but dropped out of
the case in March.
EchoStar and DirecTV serve about 40 markets combined. If their merger is
approved, the companies have promised to offer local TV in all 210 markets
within two years, provided stations offer meaningful local content.
The carriage mandate was a provision of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement
Act, a law signed by President Clinton that gave DBS carriers the right to offer
local TV signals in their home markets for the first time.