Judge Could Zap Local TV on Dish


As early as Monday afternoon, a federal judge in Miami could issue an order
that cuts off local TV service to millions of EchoStar Communications Corp. Dish
Network customers, after findings of repeated copyright violations by the
satellite carrier.

An injunction terminating EchoStar's hugely successful local TV service would
be a shocking, little-anticipated outcome to the five-year-old case.

But both satellite and broadcasting sources said U.S. Judge William P.
Dimitrouleas might have no other option under the Satellite Home Viewer
Improvement Act of 1999.

Dimitrouleas could stay an injunction pending appeal. But if he decides to
give EchoStar only 30 or 60 days to shut down all local TV transmissions, a
firestorm could erupt on Capitol Hill and cause damage to both EchoStar and
broadcasters with lawmakers who find themselves trapped between angry dish
owners and longtime business supporters.

The case involves allegations by CBS and Fox Broadcasting Co. and their
affiliates (plus the affiliates of ABC and NBC) that EchoStar illegally sold
network signals to thousands of satellite customers who were ineligible to
purchase them.

Federal law restricts reception of distant network signals to homes located
in so-called white areas, or places where the signals of local network
affiliates can't be picked up with conventional rooftop antennas.

Because local affiliates do not want to lose audience (and, ultimately,
advertising revenue) to their out-of-market brethren, they have been pressing
the federal courts to crack down on EchoStar and DirecTV Inc.

DirecTV settled and dropped out of the case. EchoStar settled with ABC and
NBC, but not with CBS and Fox, nor with any of the powerful network-affiliate